Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of BeastsTitle: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

Author: Erik Larson

Genre: Biography, history

Star Rating (out of 5): ***1/2

For: Fans of WWII history, American and German history, politics and activism

This wasn’t the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever read, but was definitely sobering.  It’s the story of America’s ambassador to Germany during the Nazi rise to power, and his daughter Martha.  Ambassador Dodd seemed to be a good enough man and one of the few who eventually realized the danger that Hitler posed to the world, but he basically lacked the skills and U.S. support to be effective in doing anything about it.

Dodd’s daughter, Martha, showed a complete lack of discretion or care for much of anything but her own entertainment, as evidenced by her constant and capricious affairs with Nazis, Soviets, and any other handsome man who interested her.

The most chilling thing was reading about how delusional everyone seemed to have been about Hitler, and how many opportunities Germany and the world’s leaders had to stop him.  Or, perhaps more chilling, how German citizens stood by and did nothing as their rights were slowly and then brutally taken away, all for the sake of promised economic recovery (sound familiar?) This book helped me understand how that was possible; how they believed lies and overlooked atrocities for what they believed was “the greater good,” and how helpless and fearful the German people likely felt once World War II began.

Also, reading this book made me wonder what I, and other Americans, would do in similar circumstances.  Would I even know what channels to communicate through, who to ask for help, or how to resist?  I think it is something we should all educate ourselves on, and I’m challenged to participate in our systems when I see wrongs being committed, even if they seem rare or not particularly dramatic.  Only an active, convicted citizenry could have prevented Hitler’s atrocities, and that is what I am determined to learn how to become.


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