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In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin [Paperback]

Erik Larson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 May 2012

Berlin,1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history.

Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn to the Nazis and their vision of a 'New Germany' and has a succession of affairs with senior party players, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

But as the year darkens, Dodd and his daughter find their lives transformed and any last illusion they might have about Hitler are shattered by the violence of the 'Night of the Long Knives' in the summer of 1934 that established him as supreme dictator. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the times, and with brilliant portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler amongst others, Erik Larson's new book sheds unique light on events as they unfold, resulting in an unforgettable, addictively readable work of narrative history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (10 May 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0552777773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552777773
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Larson's best and most enthralling work of novelistic with incident, populated by fascinating secondary characters, tinged with rising peril and pityingly persuasive...powerful, poignant...a transportingly true story." (NEW YORK TIMES)

"Fascinating...using letters and diaries, Larson - a master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction - creates a nuanced, eyewitness account of a father and daughter whose eyes thankfully opened as the horrors closed in." (PEOPLE)

"Reads like an elegant thriller...utterly excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller." (Philip Kerr Washington Post)

"Compelling...the kind of book that brings history alive to readers and proves why Larson's Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City were such hits." (USA TODAY)

"Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds' intimate witness to Hitler's ascendancy...has all the pleasures of a political thriller: innocents abroad, the gathering storm...a fresh picture of these terrible events." (New York Times Book Review)

Book Description

The extraordinary true story of intrigue and emerging terror at the American embassy in Berlin during the tumultuous twelve months that witnessed Hitler's rise to ultimate power in Germany.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing 26 July 2011
By Robin
We are have all read books on the Nazi terror but do we know what it was like to have lived under them in Berlin? The terrifying and all pervasive force, even for the American diplomats from whose diaries the accounts are taken, provides a vivid picture. Yet, it also explains how close Hitlers coterie of thugs came to losing power and why many Berliners even as early as 1934 were certain that they would be kicked out. A good read that fills in the gaps of the dreadful Nazi political machine.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling, yet exasperating read. 14 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In The Garden of Beasts did not really live up to its dramatic title. It is the story of America's first ambassador accredited to Hitler's court. President Franklin Roosevelt took office a few months after Adolf Hitler and one of his early tasks was to appoint an ambassador to Berlin. Academic William Dodd was not Roosevelt's first choice but was the only one to accept. He was temperamentally unsuited to the world of diplomacy and succeeded in ruffling feathers on both sides of the Atlantic. To his credit, he did see very early on the danger Hitler posed to Europe and peace and tried to raise awareness of the inevitable failure of the appeasement policy.

The book also covers the Dodds' family life in general and daughter Martha's in detail. She was a "flirtatious" young woman and had affairs of varying degrees of intimacy with men as diverse as a Soviet diplomat and the head of the Gestapo. The details we are given are too often tedious and unimportant and began to feel like padding.

Larson is better at describing the machinations of the Nazi regime as it tries to consolidate power in the first few years and weed out dissention within its ranks. However, I would have preferred that he leave out some of the dramatic descriptions and let the deeds speak for themselves.

In The Garden of Beasts shed light on an interesting period, and I continued to read to find out what would happen next, but too often it was yet another description of Martha's social life. I did not think it was as well written as it could have been.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerfully Portrayed 17 Sep 2011
Having read - and been somewhat bored -by Larson's "Devil in White City", I wasn't expecting much when I began this book. I am interested in this period of history, the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, much more so than in the war that was to follow. Perhaps this was why I became quite gripped by this historical account as Larson tries to imagine how it must have been to have lived in Berlin at the time the "Night of the Long Knives" occurred. What must it have been like to have moved in the circle of the men who brought the world to war?
In order to do this, Larson follows the diplomatic career and social life of William Dodd, posted somewhat reluctantly with his family as American Ambassador to Berlin in 1933. Very few others wanted the position due to the ominous portents already evident in Germany as Hitler extended his influence and power. Dodd's family went with him, and his daughter Martha was to fall in love with the city when she arrived as a young and vibrant American woman. The book focuses attention on many of the trysts she was to have with some of the intriguing and sinister characters who moved in political circles at the time, from men of the Gestapo to those working for the Soviets.
Larson, I think, manages to capture the growing paranoia and creeping terror that gradually infused the political elite while, at the same time, the lives and loves of the ordinary Berliners continued in near happy oblivion (providing they weren't Jewish, and weren't close to any Jewish people, of course.) Berlin is portrayed as quite a happy, content and pretty place, while storm clouds gathered literally and metaphorically in the distance. The main characters, including the Nazi high command, are well drawn and rounded, helping to give the story a humanity that is missing in many historical accounts. A good read then, and I think I'll put Larson back on my list of authors worth watching out for.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much narrative not enough facts 15 Sep 2011
This account of the stay in 1930s Berlin of US Ambassador Dodd and his family is certainly interesting as background to the period. Unfortunately its author could not decide whether the focus of the book was to be the Ambassador and political/social issues, or the various activities of Mr Dodd's daughter and her many male admirers (who seem to include, very retrospectively, the author himself). Although the author has drawn on family memoirs for both aspects, some of the material lacks substance and corroboration and the book reads more like a novel than history in some places. Larson is concerned to show Dodds as a prophet without honour in his own country and largely succeeds in that aim. Overall the book is certainly worth reading for anyone interested in the period. Contrary to what some reviews say, the author makes no attempt to disguise the fact that Dodd's daughter was active - albeit rather ineffectively - in espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union after WWII as well as before.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable insight 21 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
All William Dodd wanted was a quiet posting somewhere, somewhere where he would be able to realise his academic ambition, which was to complete his 4 volume treatise on The Rise and Fall of the Old South. He never did.
Instead he became U.S Ambassador to Germany, which left him no time to devote to his book. He arrived in Berlin in 1933; naive and totally unprepared for what lay ahead and ignorant of the reality of the evil that was emerging all around, the brutality and fear and persecution of German Jews, things both he and his family were to remain in denial of for quite some time.
This is a story of political intrigue and mistrust and betrayal, not just during a critical period in history but at the very centre of the vortex. And not just by Hitler and his entourage and the growing number of Nazi sympathisers and enforcers. Dodd did not have the 'right background' which did not endear him to those in charge back at the State Department, which we are led to believe was more like a rich boys club where tennis and cocktails and partying were more important for overseas diplomats than diplomacy; not only that, they did not want Dodd or anybody else for that matter 'rocking the boat, they too were clueless about the reality of Hitlers regime and his future intentions.
A fascinating account of the life of the American ambassador and his family in Berlin in 1933-34 against the backdrop of Hitlers rise to power and what went on behind political doors, not just in Berlin but in Washington too
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars in the garden of beasts
found this book an excellent read, could not put it down,sorry when I finished it.caused me to put off all my housework
Published 1 month ago by bridget angela connolly
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and scary
This is a real and chilling insight into the most turbulent period of recent history. It is frightening how readily the world slept walked into oblivion. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Joshua James
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
This was a very good book and I certainly enjoyed reading it. I wanted to finish very quickly as I had become engrossed in it.
Published 3 months ago by jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Very pleased
I received this book in 'as new' condition and have found it very interesting. The price was very good compared to other offers.
Published 4 months ago by Mr P.Blackburn
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable and interesting read
this is a real life account of the life in pre war berlin of the usa ambassador and his family. a fascinating and infomative read
Published 4 months ago by Mrs Linda M Spinks
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read!
Bought as a present; requested by recipient. Delighted with book. Always a good idea to order through Amazon. Go for it!
Published 5 months ago by Margaret
5.0 out of 5 stars Beween the wars in Germany
A fantastic book, written from diaries, journals and extracts from official papers, it reads like a novel. Difficult to put down once started
Published 7 months ago by Dr. John Pickworth
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable insight into how Germany went mad
By telling the story of America's improbable ambassador to Hitler's court and the beautiful and uncontrollable daughter Martha who accompanied him, Larson takes us on a fascinating... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Sharpener
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched. Shocking, informative and enjoyable.
The book is very well researched and encourages the reader to look for even more information around the subject. It is entertaining as well as informative. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Thomas Ian Barnes
4.0 out of 5 stars His heart was in the right place!

How many out there have seen Romeo & Juliet, and hoped that THIS time it would have a different, more happy ending? I do every time! Read more
Published 12 months ago by Luthien Arnatuile
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