In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson


Rate: 3/5

 Medium: AudioBook

 Overview (No Spoilers): After reading Catherine the Great on audiobook I’ve decided to continue looking for historical nonfiction books for my daily commute/chores. Instead of listening to mindless radio or TV while cooking or driving, I’ll be learning more about various historical figures or events (suggestions more than welcome!). In the Garden of Beasts, Larson does an excellent job illustrating the prevailing post World War I isolationist view held by many American and the precariously, prickly situation that the unfortunate American Ambassador, William Dodd, to Germany and his family found themselves in prior to World War II. Dodd, an overall interesting character, was an atypical Ambassador due to his lack of wealth and generally frugal principles, eventually managed to alienate many in the State Department. His daughter, Martha, was the other fascinating individual during this tumultuous time. She was quick to defend the Nazi early actions due to her belief that they were just growing pains for the New Germany. Although, her divorce to a New York banker was not yet to be finalized, she took several lovers during her adventure in Germany. Several were high ranking Nazi officials, such as the Gestapo head, Rudolf Diels, however her favorite was a Soviet communist spy, Boris Vinogradov. Larson was able to reconstruct their time in German from several collections of letters, diaries, newspaper articles, etc. Overall, In the Garden of Beasts was a thought-provoking glimpse in the pre World War II Germany under the all knowing hindsight gaze as to what is to happen in the near future.

 Additional Insight and Comments (Potential Spoilers):

  1. What happened to the Jewish family, from which the Dodd’s rented their house? Larson completely neglected to address their fate.
  2. I’ve been contemplating the impact diaries and letters have in being able to reconstruct a glimpse into the lives of these historical people. Today that art is potentially lost with the use of emails and other digital correspondence, many of which are password protected. Will the heroes of our generation be lost to the ages due to a lack of inside thoughts and correspondences readily available after their death?


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