In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

1st June 2011

An American family takes a diplomatic post in Berlin as the storm clouds of World War II gather. The goal? Attempt to get Germany to pay back its debts from World War I. The result? Confusion and misinformation as the States and diplomats across the world try to ascertain Hitler’s true intentions.

In this newest work of nonfiction by Erik Larson, the Dodds are not the ideal diplomatic family: Dr. Dodd is a history professor whose sole goal is to finish his book on the Civil War in the States. His daughter is a promiscuous, married-but-separated young woman who does not quite know how to behave herself abroad. The powers that be don’t like the Dodds, but the family extensively documents the innocuous and not-so-innocuous moments beginning in 1933 and ending in 1937 when the Dodds leave Berlin.

Though the family was interesting (and they were/are), the most absorbing aspect of this book was understanding, through their eyes, a bit more why the world was not or chose not to be aware of what was happening in Germany. When the Dodds first arrive, the family is enchanted with Germany and its villages. Martha and her brother Bill take drives through the countryside and are impressed with the German people. Even after witnessing incidents of abuse and cruelty, they pass it off as isolated offenses. Dr. Dodd meets with other diplomats and sees hope in some figures in the Nazi party. He is much more concerned with living on a budget, though his assistants and the State Department begrudge his frugality.ร‚ย  However, as the corruption, spying, and infighting worsen, the Dodds feel the tension and terror and begin to attempt to warn those outside with little effect.

I honestly did not want the book to end. World War II fascinates me anyway, but I have not often found a lot of nonfiction or fiction dealing with the pregnant years after World War I and before World War II. Erik Larson’s genius is in finding smaller stories and tackling them, using them to flesh out the nuances with greater historical value.

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Check out my other favorite from Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City.

Other reviews:

Sophisticated Dorkiness

  • Erik Larson is just incredible – I loved The Devil in the White City and wish I had gone to this event to get a copy of his book and meet him! Argh.

    • pickygirl

      He was a quick signer; it was a mega long line. But I was pleased I got to meet him, even for a minute.

  • By the way – so glad we met at Book Blogger Con! Yay! I posted the pic of us – you look great, I look like I just met a celebrity! Which you are! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pickygirl

      Um, you’re sweet, but I look like a mess. I don’t deal with heat well, as my hair attests to….why do I live in Texas again?? ๐Ÿ™‚ But yes, it was awesome to meet you too.

  • Robert_10_4

    Definitly gonna read that!

    • pickygirl

      You should!

  • Oooh, I didn’t know it was THAT Erik Larson who wrote this one!! How exciting — now I definitely need to read!

    • pickygirl

      Yes indeedy! He is so fantastic. I will pretty much read whatever he writes.

  • Wow, that cover is STUNNING. I really must read his books!

    I just finished reading Rebecca Cantrell’s A GAME OF LIES over the holiday weekend. It takes place in Berlin during the 1936 Summer Olympics and is pretty interesting. It’s the third in a mystery series about a female newspaper reporter/spy that’s set in Berlin during that pre-WWII period. The first one, A TRACE OF SMOKE, takes place in 1931. The author went to school in Berlin and is fluent in German so her attention to detail is very good.

    • pickygirl

      Ooh, I’m so glad you saw this and commented. As I said, I love this time period and would really like to read this. And yes, you DO need to read his books. Get on that, will you?

  • This Erik Larson book is the bomb. How do I know that? I just do. CAN’T WAIT TO READ IT. Thanks for a great review. I have so much lined up to read this summer, I doubt I’ll survive. HA!

    • pickygirl

      I have to add everything he’s ever written to mine. I’m excited…

    • Yvette, are you the same Yvette B. who used to hang out at Robert Crais’s forum?

      • Yes I am, Elyse. I so miss that forum. It was my intro to author forums. It was the best.

        Nice to talk with you again. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Oh, how nice to run into you again here! It’s a small worldwide web.

          That forum remains my first and only. I still keep in touch with people from there. Remember Eddy, Shelby, Tris, Helen, Donna, and Debbie?

          Hope you’re well.

  • Ash

    I just got this book at BEA and can’t wait to read it. Glad it lived up to your expectations!

    • pickygirl

      Oooh hope you enjoy it. So good.

  • I’ve seen the book on our new book shelf at our library in recent months and wondered about it. Now I don’t have to wonder anymore…at least, until (and if) I read it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pickygirl

      Oh you should. Have you read any Larson before? He is really great with nonfiction – even his footnotes are fun to read.

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