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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 listenable 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Chris on 06-04-11
Frightening, Powerful, Deeply Thought-provoking.
What an incredible view of a pivotal moment in history. Perhaps this book is not as powerful if you have middling knowledge of 20th century history, but I found this portrait of Germany and the birth of the Third Reich chilling.
If you have ever asked, "how could THAT have happened?" read this book, and you'll know. Watching Berlin, one of the world's most important cultural centers, dissolve into barbaric, paranoid madness is very disturbing, particularly because of how easily it happened. Its also quite sad to know that there were a few moments at the beginning, here and there, when maybe it all could have been stopped.
I'm still thinking about it all days later. Very worth reading.
55 of 59 people found this review helpful
By History on 11-21-11
I loved it ... and hated it ... simultaneously
I have rarely been more conflicted about a book than I am about this one. In many ways it was gripping and sometimes mesmerizing and then again, it was also annoying and at the same time, utterly appalling.
The indifference and callously entrenched anti-Semitism of US State Department officials and their consequent tolerance for the atrocities of the Nazi government is hard to stomach.This is not an image of our government that could make anyone proud to be an American.
The failure of all the western nations to do anything to stop Hitler while they could -- with relative ease -- have done so is difficult to fathom. The feather-headed self-absorption of Dodd's daughter is like a case of hives: the more you scratch, the more you itch.
Most of the people in the book are awful in one way or another. Dodd, the ambassador, ultimately grows to become, in his way, heroic. He, at least, saw what was happening and tried -- within the scope of his position -- to do what he could. That no one listened to him is part of the heartbreak.
Worse is that those who failed to act more often than not did so NOT because they didn't believe him (although some really didn't), but because the majority of them were hardened anti-Semites and/or because they thought Hitler was going to rid Europe of the menace of Communism. Hitler as the lesser of two evils? How revolting is that? And all of this led to the bloodiest war in human history, a conflict wherein more than 30 million people died.
The banality of evil has never been more obvious or more terrifying. Read it and weep.
75 of 81 people found this review helpful