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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing
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...
Published on 26 July 2011 by Robin

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling, yet exasperating read.
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...
Published 19 months ago by Mrs. C. A. B. Otley


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, 26 July 2011
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
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This review is from: In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin (Paperback)
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
By 
Stephen Bishop (Darlington, England) - See all my reviews
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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
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G. G. Curtis - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin (Paperback)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and worth a read!, 22 Oct 2012
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This review is from: In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin (Paperback)
I lived in Berlin for seven years and have travelled there many times on other occasions. It is a city I love, but until now I have avoided spending much time on its Nazi past. I've visited very few of its WW2 museums or famous sites and, being Jewish, I have always found it tiresome that any mention of Germany or Berlin, immediately conjures up the Holocaust. So, I was actually reluctant to read Eric Larson's book. But, thankfully, I picked it up anyway and was pleasantly surprised to find that this book is quite interesting.

It has two very good things going for it. First, it is an honest look at how real people viewed the rise of Adolph Hitler. And it is an honest look at how anti-Semitism played a huge part in those views. However, Larson doesn't condemn the characters for not protesting enough, or for their anti-Semitic beliefs, or even for openly accepting and admiring Hitler's government. Nor does he praise them in the end, when they finally realize how bad the situation really is. Rather he tries to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions from their own vantage point and give us a good feeling of what it would have been like if we were there. It's a refreshing, more objective view of history and one I thoroughly enjoy.

The second wonderful part of this book is the feeling of walking the streets of Berlin. Larson has a good flair for narration and the reader is transported to those streets, and can feel, see, smell, and almost touch the sights and sounds of the end days of the Weimar Republic. I hope on my next trip to try and find some of those sights. The book had deepened my love and interest in the city and has opened my eyes to a part of its history I had thought to ignore.

As for history books, this is less a conventional history, and more a personal insight. There is a general overview of the events that led to Hitler's seizure of power, but if you are looking for a deeper reading, than Larson's book is not for you. This book is unlike his others and I don't think his intention was to write just narrative history, but rather to try and experience a historical moment from the eyes of its witnesses. Fascinating. Definitely worth five stars. I read it in less than 48 hours.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As readable as a novel..., 26 April 2012
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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Erik Larson writes history like a novel, so readable and engrossing that the pages fly by. I could scarcely put this book down. I'd previously read Larson's The Devil In The White City, so I knew his style, and this book was no disappointment.

It follows several years in the life of William E. Dodd, American ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. Larson really manages to evoke the fear and paranoia of Berlin under Hitler's rise, even from such a protected vantage point of the American embassy. Dodd was perhaps quite unsuited to a role in the diplomatic service, coming from an academic background, but he proved an outspoken critic of the Nazi government, quite often straining across his own government's unwilling to be seen to criticise a foreign government's internal dealings.

Another major character in this book is Dodd's daughter Martha, who is far less sympathetic. She comes across initially as something of a Unity Mitford type, impressed by the youth and vigour and order of the Nazi regime. The scales fall relatively quickly from her eyes and she then becomes infatuated with a NKVD operative and eventually ends up spying for the Soviet Union, somewhat ineffectually, it must be said. She comes across as a relatively empty-headed woman with no real ideas of her own and an inflated vision of herself as some kind of woman of mystery and intrigue.

I've got a few more of Larson's books on the shelves, and I think I'll be moving them up the to-read list. He really brings his subjects to life, and as I said, makes history read like a novel - although it would hard to make something like Nazi Germany dry and boring, given its horrific nature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interested buy afflicted but superfluous details, 20 Jan 2013
A very interesting book from the historic perspective. The interactions between Ambassador Dodds and his family and the German hierarchy are fascinating. I also enjoyed the dynamics between Dodds a seemingly honest and down to earth man and the upper class red neck snobs that ran the diplomatic service at the time.

The one big downside of this book for me was the author's obsessive love of superfluous detail especially when it came to the mundane issues surrounding his and his families domestic arrangements and his randy daughter's excessive love life.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing dry about this history book, 24 Aug 2011
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
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William Dodd served as US Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. He moved there with his family and this is the account of primarily their first year in Germany. It's based in part on their diaries and memoirs and gives an outsider's perspective on life in Berlin over that time.

One problem is that Dodd was nowhere near as interesting as the larger than life characters around him. A history lecturer with a strong frugal streak, he was not terribly perceptive: while he eventually came to detest the Nazi regime, it took almost a full year. In part this is because he didn't have strong views on the rights of Jews, being somewhat anti-Semitic himself (in keeping with prevalent attitudes of the time). Therefore his initial response was to dismiss recounts of oppression to Jews as exceptions rather than the rule. Also, his Government's priority was to recoup Germany's financial debts to the US rather than to intervene on human rights or to listen to warnings about the likelihood of war.

Dodd's daughter Martha, aged in her early 20s, essentially treated the experience as one long adventure and was willing to jump into bed with almost anyone as long as they were important. Her lovers included the head of the Gestapo and a Russian spy. Her initial reaction to Berlin was also extremely favourable: a pleasant, orderly city peopled with a happy and motivated population. Again, over the course of the next year her attitudes changed significantly and Larson does a terrific job of conveying the rising tension across the city between 1933 and 1934.

This is far from being a dry history book - at times it reads almost like a novel. Larson mentions in the epilogue that he included some stories that don't quite fit into the Dodds' narrative simply because they were so interesting and indeed these are some of the most poignant stories in the book. However I disliked his annoying habit of foreshadowing stories in a way that makes them sound far more significant than they are going to be: eg, the "unexpected companion" who will come to a party turns out to be fear.

There are a few photographs included but I would have liked there to be many more (often photographs are described in the text but not included). A glossary of "who's who" would also have been helpful.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another memorable and enjoyable journey back in time, 22 Aug 2011
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
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Others have their own reasons for holding this book in such high regard. Here are three of mine:

First, as he did in his earlier masterwork, The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson takes his reader back several decades to a time and place of exceptional complexity and excitement. He again displays the skills of a raconteur, cultural anthropologist, and social historian as he focuses on the emergence of Adolph Hitler in Germany during the 1930s. That tumultuous period comes alive to the extent that printed material can in the same ways that and the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 do.

The focus is on the newly-appointed U.S. ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his family. I admire the consummate skill with which Larson somehow enables his reader to keep track of not one or two but more than a dozen (if not several dozen) personal as well as official relationships that involve members of the Dodd family, either as a group or as individuals. The narrative structure reminds me of a novel written by Henry James in his prime. There are enemies, opponents, and antagonists galore as Hitler relentlessly gains control while President Roosevelt struggles to keep his options open and Dodd tries - with mixed results - to fulfill his duties amidst opposition and disdain from his colleagues in both Berlin and Washington.

Finally, I appreciate all the back-stories within both U.S. and German official communities whose careerists scramble madly for positions of power and influence as if playing a deadly version of musical chairs. Again, Larson is exceptionally skillful when managing the choreography of fear, back-slapping, back-stabbing, negotiations, betrayals, ambiguity, and power plays. Those familiar with the court of England's Henry VIII or Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts will catch the drift of my meeting. Larson serves as both gardener and ringmaster as various beasts come and go.

I still think that The Devil in the White City is a greater literary achievement but, that said, I hope I have indicated in this brief commentary how much I appreciated being taken aboard one of Erik Larson's carpets for an unforgettable journey.
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In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin
In The Garden of Beasts: Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (Paperback - 10 May 2012)
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