In the Garden of the Beasts –


In the Garden of the Beasts –

Eric Larson, who has written stirring nonfiction about a serial killer during Chicago’s great exhibition of 1898 (The Devil in White City) and Marconi’s struggle to bring radio to the planet (Thunderstruck), does his best work telling us what happens when the world turns a blind eye to evil. From the dust cover:

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 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 Hitler’s 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.

Memorial Day is a good time to consider the alternatives. We took one path in 1933, when a strong involved America could have stopped a stumbling Hitler before World War II and the Holocaust. This book reminds us that hiding from horror never makes us safe, but ensures our possible destruction. Plus it’s a really great read. Eric Larson has a winner.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Double thanks for mentioning this, John. Eric Larson’s “Devil in the White City” was an extraordinary book, and this one would seem to be the same. Also a good reminder of why we are thankful to veterans.

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