A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitlers true character and ruthless ambition.
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Goring and the expectedly charming—yet wholly sinister—Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
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One problem with the Nazis adulation of Aryan perfection was that none of the regimes most senior leaders fit the tall, blond, blue-eyed model. Hitler, when not ranting, looked to be a rather prosaic type, a middle manager of middle age with a strange mustache that evoked the American comic actor Charlie Chaplin. Göring was hugely overweight, and increasingly given to odd quirks of narcissistic display, such as painting his nails and changing his uniform several times a day. Himmler looked like a practitioner of the field in which he had been employed before being annointed by Hitler: chicken farming.
Goebbels appearance posed the greatest challenge, however. He was a shrunken figure with a crippled foot whose looks bore a startling resemblance to the grotesquely distorted caricatures that appeared regularly in Nazi hat literature.
مشاهده لینک اصلی
Picture Principal Skinner from The Simpsons and Paris Hilton going to Nazi Germany, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this book is like.
I was split on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City because I found the half of the book about the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair incredibly interesting but thought the other half about serial killer H.H. Holmes to be just another true crime gore fest. Then in Thunderstruck he again gave us some nice pop history with the story of Marconi and the invention of the radio, but then he stretched the inclusion of a crime story to a ridiculous exteme by trying to tie in a manhunt for a killer across the Atlantic that used early wireless.
I was hoping that In the Garden of Beasts would allow Larson to play to his strengths with a story about Nazis in the 1930s because I thought he could give a detailed look at life in Berlin as Hitler was consolidating his power, and this time he’d actually have a legitimate horror story to tell without it feeling like something just tacked on to sell books. Instead, I got a story about a couple of people who were surrounded by evil and didn’t do a helluva lot about it.
The story centers on William Dodd and his daughter Martha. Dodd was a history professor in Chicago with minor political connections and a dream of obtaining a quiet government post somewhere so he could finish writing a history of the American Civil War. When President Roosevelt couldn’t get anyone else to take the job, he asked Dodd to be the ambassador to Germany. Dodd accepted and took his wife and two grown children along with him. Like a lot of Americans, Dodd was worried about some of the stories of Nazi violence coming out at the time, but thought that Hitler might be nudged towards controlling the extreme factions since he‘d just taken over as chancellor. His interactions with the Nazi power brokers and the rise of German nationalistic fervor eventually convinced Dodd that Hitler and his people were bad news for the entire world.
Here’s where the book falls down for me. Larson got me interested in the Chicago World’s Fair because I knew nothing about it, and he made it come alive. I already know about how the Nazis came to power so the history piece of this is old news to me. While there’s some interesting slice of life details and Larson does a nice job of giving you a sense of the weird combination of paranoia, pride, terror and zeal that pervaded Germany in the 1930s, it’s really nothing I haven’t heard before. Maybe I would have been more interested if I would have found Dodd’s story more intriguing, but frankly, the ambassador seemed about as interesting as a saltine cracker to me.
Dodd comes across as a decent enough guy for his time. He did advocate policies of getting tougher with Germany when most of America was in full isolationist mode, but aside from irking the Nazis with a couple of speeches and boycotting a couple of official functions, he really didn’t do anything. (And as one of his critics of the time pointed out, an ambassador who refuses to meet with the government of the country he’s in really isn’t accomplishing much.) Dodd irritated others in America’s diplomatic service with his constant criticism of their spending and seemed more concerned with cutting costs at the embassy rather than dealing with the Germans.
The odd thing about this book is that Larson all but ignores Dodd’s wife and son in favor of giving a detailed portrayal of his daughter, Martha. Martha came along with her father as her first marriage was ending, and to put it mildly, she got around. I mean, it’s good that a woman in her time was sexually liberated enough to carry on with guys like the poet Carl Sandburg. However, once she dated the head of the Gestapo and a top Soviet spy as well as many, many others, I had the impression that Martha was less than discriminating with her affections. Hell, she even kinda went along with a half-assed scheme one of the Nazis had to try and hook her up with Hitler himself.
So this becomes the story of a mild mannered diplomat dealing with the rise of some of the most evil fucks in history, but he’s pinching pennies at the embassy instead of giving visas to every Jewish person he could find. And his daughter is a sleeping her way through Europe while at first extolling the virtues of the Nazis, then deciding that she’s kind of a communist, but in the end Martha doesn’t do much but put a smile on the face of any guy who gives her a wink and a smile.
In this case, I knew the history and only got a story about a couple of people who seem like they should have been maybe a chapter in larger history of the time and place. Dodd and Martha just didn’t impress or intrigue me enough to warrant reading a whole book about them. It’s disappointing that Larson decided to make them the center of this.
مشاهده لینک اصلی
I didnt think you could make the rise of Hitler boring, but...this was. Ever so much. 300 pages of @But unknown to Dodd, all the rich dudes in the US hated him and were saying things like blah blah blah@ and @Martha was having yet another affair@ and @Everyone in Berlin seemed happy but THE ATMOSPHERE WAS TENSE@ that all led up to a rather anticlimactic Night of the Long Knives. I really just didnt care for anyone in the Dodd family - Dodd himself seemed stuffy and did not, over the course of the book, seem to have the brilliant insight into the implications of the Nazi regime with which the epilogue credits him. Martha was pretty insufferable and ultimately I had no idea why so much time was spent on her affairs. I wouldve vastly preferred a book about characters named only briefly, like Bella Fromm or Sigrid Schulz.
مشاهده لینک اصلی
Be prepared to stay up reading into the wee hours once you get your hands on this book. It held my interest better than any novel, and it filled in all the gaps in my understanding of how Hitler was able to gain so much power so quickly, with so little opposition. Erik Larson used the detailed diaries of William E. Dodd and his daughter Martha to reconstruct @a year in the life@ for Americans in Berlin from 1933 to 1934.
William Dodd had no idea what he was saying yes to when President Roosevelt offered him the position of ambassador to Germany in 1933. Dodd had fond memories of the Germany of 40 years before, when hed attended college in Leipzig. Upon arrival in Berlin, he and his family discovered a Germany already in the grip of terror, a mere six months after Hitler had been appointed chancellor. Storm Troopers were attacking people in the streets. Communists and liberals were already being sent to concentration camps without due process.
As ambassador, Dodd found he was required to attend diplomatic functions and rub shoulders with the monsters of the new regime. As the horrors worsened, he found this increasingly repugnant, and tried doggedly to convince those in Washington that intervention was necessary. His entreaties fell mostly on deaf ears. Dodds bosses were more concerned about getting Germany to pay off their huge debt to America, while maintaining an isolationist position with regard to foreign conflicts.
While Dodd struggled with his diplomatic duties, his young daughter Martha was treating her time in Berlin as a lark. She dated and consorted with highly placed Nazis, including some of the most abominable of Hitlers minions. At first, she enthusiastically endorsed the Nazi agenda and its effect on the @New Germany.@ By the winter of 1933-34, however, she too was living in terror. This didnt seem to put much of a damper on her dating life, though, and she gained a reputation as quite a round-heeled girl.
In late June of 1934 came @The Night of the Long Knives,@ in which Hitler orchestrated the rapid execution of hundreds of Storm Troopers and other @enemies,@ some seemingly at random. That August, President Hindenburg died. Hitler quickly took control and achieved absolute power. William Dodd remained in his position as ambassador for three more years, during which American leaders continued to refuse his requests for intervention in Nazi Germany.
This book has already earned a permanent place in my home library. I cant recommend it highly enough. Great care has been taken to provide all the little things that prevent confusion and make a book easier to read and understand. I would give it six stars if I could.
مشاهده لینک اصلی
In 1933, William Dodd, a Chicago academic is appointed the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. He enters this cauldron accompanied by his family, most particularly by his very modern daughter, Martha. Larson shows us the quickly changing Germany of 1933 through their eyes.
While this is hardly a man-on-the-strasse point of view, a look at the goings on through the experiences of a diplomat and his daughter does get a bit closer to the ground than a more removed historical overview. Larson chose to deliver a one year slice of the darkening life of Nazi Germany. There is plenty in that one year to fill many books.
I was of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I read it rather quickly, which usually indicates a high level of interest. On the other hand, it did not seem all that interesting to me. Certainly there are not a lot of new revelations remaining re the Third Reich. The ambassador seemed like a mostly decent guy who tried his best under what might, at best, be called trying circumstances. His experience highlighted the cliquish, anti-Semitic, quality of the rich-boy American foreign service. ( The Pretty Good Club) Not news. The upper echelons of the Nazi Party included an assortment of mental misfits, from the lunatic-in-chief to Goering, with an ego even larger than his lavishly costumed body, to in-fighting middle-school sociopaths with armies and zero sense of morality. Again, not news. News was some of the nuance involved in why Roosevelt was disinclined to openly criticize the Nazis for their treatment of the Jews. News was the connections the ambassador’s daughter made with questionable characters.
Ambassador Dodd’s daughter, Martha, appears to have had a very lively social life. Her interactions with some of the notables allow us a look at people who were unfamiliar. Indeed, it is the secondary characters that hold the most interest here. One such who emerges from the gunsmoke is Rudolf Diels, the first head of the Gestapo. His scar-ridden face might lead one to see him as a total black hat. Turns out there was more to him than that. Martha also has an affair with a Soviet KGB agent named, of course, Boris. How much of their affection was true and how much was manipulation? Franz von Papen was Hindenberg’s man, vice-chancellor under Hitler. He delivered (or was forced to give) a famous public call for Hitler to scale back some of his atrocities in the “Marburg Speech.” No. I had never heard of it either. But it was significant for the time, and gets some well-merited attention here. Larson offers a bit of a look at the political machinations of the US consul general George Messersmith, as well.
One of the most telling scenes in the book is one in which the ambassador is told that his primary task was to see that Germany paid the banks, uber alles. The relevance to the 21st Century is unmistakable. Larson’s depiction of The Night of Long Knives was riveting, particularly the mysteriousness of it all. Who was killed? How many? Why? Contrary to the post-Nazi claim that most of the population was against Hitler, the portrait Larson paints indicates widespread popular support for the Nazi leader.
It is chilling to see the frustrations of a population which had suffered economic deprivations for so long finding a savior in a madman. There is clearly a willingness in the USA for many people to throw their support to the loudest and meanest, regardless of what is revealed almost daily about the dishonesty of such leaders. It is not surprising that there were so many in Germany who felt that their national honor could best be revived through this bombastic bully. Pay attention to what the crazies say they want to do. Whether it is Paul Ryan promising to dismantle Medicare, or Ron Paul objecting to the Civil Rights Act. Mein Kampf is pretty specific. What did they think they were getting? In the article cited at the end of this page, Larson says,
@The immediate trigger for this book was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but I read that also at a time when I was feeling uneasy about how things were going in this country. It troubled me that we had these reports of torture of detainees, we had people jailed at Guantanamo Bay who couldnt even talk to their lawyers and couldnt see the evidence against them — sort of fundamental bedrock civil liberties things. ... Look, I dont care what your party is. I went to public school on Long Island, and it seemed every year we were being taught that you had a right to a fair trial and a right to confront your accuser. So its this kind of vague feeling I had in the background which was, What was that like to experience a real extreme version of that? ... So it made me wonder what allows a culture to slip its moorings.@But even though there were interesting elements within the book, even though I read through it all relatively quickly, I still did not feel, by the time I had finished, that it was all that much. One of the problems with being a damn good writer is that expectations are elevated. It is tough indeed to come up to The Devil in the White City, an astonishingly good book. In the Garden of Beasts does not approach that work. While it might be interesting to see how the flowers grow in this dark garden, there is just not enough meat here to satisfy the fly-traps.
Larson is interviewed in this outstanding NPR piece: William Dodd: The U.S. Ambassador In Hitlers Berlin - May 2, 2011
مشاهده لینک اصلی
Ambassador Dodd, perhaps one of the most unusual ambassadors to a major country we have ever had, was initially reluctant to criticize the Hitler regime, mainly due to his nostalgic memories of the time he spent studying in Germany decades before. But it didnt take him too long to figure out just how horrible the Nazis already were in 1933 and 1934. Dodds opponents in the State Department wouldnt listen. President Roosevelt listened, seemed to agree, but did nothing.
It seems clear from this personal view of the early Nazi years that pressure from abroad, especially from the U.S., might have resulted in an early exit for Hitler. No invasion of Poland and France. No World War II. No Holocaust. Why did Roosevelt fail to act?
One theme that recurs several times in Larsons book is concern over Germanys re-payment of its debt to U.S. interests. I need to do more research, but questions pop to mind. Who held that debt? Was it large banks and corporations who had business relationships in Germany? Did these business relationships take precedence over the atrocities Hitler was already carrying out against Jews in 1933?
Perhaps my next research read- German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler by Henry Turner - will provide some answers. Or IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black. My suspicion is that American profits had much to do with American political attitudes toward Hitler at a time when a different U.S. policy could have made an enormous difference. There were those in Germany who might have opposed Hitler if they knew they could count on U.S. help.
I hope to develop these themes in my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER. If anyone can suggest other books that have insights on the questions I am raising, please let me know.
ps. Martha Dodd was an absolute disgrace!
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