Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Summary (from Goodreads):

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

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 suprisingly 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 Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring 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.

Review:

What an incredible read! And this from someone who doesn’t particularly like non-fiction.

As the summary above explains, this is the true account of the Dodd family’s experiences in Hitler’s Germany from 1933-1937 as they watch Hitler’s campaign to purify Germany begin, and is allowed to continue, even as impossibly horrific attacks take place against the Jewish community, as well as Hitler’s own supporters.

What is most compelling about this novel is the clarity with which the voices of the ‘characters’ are conveyed by Larson – they are clear, emotive, captivating, sinister, and, at times, quite frightening and frustrating. Especially this makes the book highly readable – because it places one squarely in the middle of the action with the Dodd family and Hitler. I love this about Larson’s writing, which keeps me coming back to his work time and again.

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