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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 15 May 2017
Interesting read and gives good insight into how American political administration viewed events in Germany leading up to Second World War
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on 7 June 2017
very informative.
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on 19 March 2017
very readable
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on 22 October 2012
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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on 21 November 2012
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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on 31 July 2013

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! And you get the same feeling when you read this book! I sat and thought "But please listen to the reports, pay attention, do something before it is too late!". Because this book shows many times over, the stupidity of States that could have done something to stop Hitler. There were moderate nazis, there was opposition, but they were too scared. HAD they got international backing, things could have ended differently. In 1933, Hitler was by no means all-powerful and accepted by everyone in Germany. But when everyone thought that the other person supported him, then most people didn't dare to voice an opinion.

This book mainly shows the US aspect of things. In 1933, USA were more isolationist than ever. FDR only showed concerns for domestic affairs. And diplomats and the State Department were more concerned about their rich lifestyle, being part of "the Pudding Club" (see "Murder on St. Malley's Day", a Midsomer Murder), preserving status quo and nepotism, than what went on in Germany. After FDR was elected president, he had the most difficult time, getting someone to accept the Ambassadorship to Germany. Everyone he asked, said no thank you. Not surprising. Nor is it surprising, that all the no sayers, had a lot to say about the man who finally did say yes. They did not want the job, but no-one was good enough in their view, to be a substitute for themselves! A very human character flaw!!!

Mr Dodd was a Historian, teaching in Chicago, dreaming of becoming Ambassador in Holland or Belgium, so that he could write his opus of the Old South. His job did not allow him to write the book of his dreams. But he thought a cozy Ambassador job would allow him time to himself. When the jobs were offered though , he chickened out, but when FDR invited him and asked him to go to Germany and become a beacon in that dark country, he agreed. He had studied there in his youth and wanted to go back there with his wife and grown children. A last time for the family to be together. His two tasks were to make Germany pay back money it owed, and to try to protect American Jews in Germany from being hurt. He was supposed to set an example to the Germans. In the interview, Dodd told the president that he intended to live on his salary so there would not be the usual luxury and waste, which much pleased the president.

Let's say that the State Department was full of men in power that hated Jews. They saw no problem with what was going on in Germany. Let them do as they please. When consuls like Messersmith, wrote report after report of all horrible atrocities going on around him, they made fun of his lengthy reports and ignored their contents. Not only did they hate Jews, they hated the fact that a history professor became ambassador, and that he had no private fortune to waste on parties. From the outset, they did everything to get rid of him. All of Ambassador Dodd's reports were laughed at as well.

When Dodd arrived in Berlin, he was scorned. He arrived with an old Chevrolet and decided to rent a house from a Jewish banker, that wanted the protection of a powerful rentée. The Jewish banker and family, were to live on the fourth floor in the house, but that turned in to just one of many unfortunate mistakes that the Ambassador made. He was an embarrassment to the Americans because of his frugal living, leaving parties early, going to bed early, walking to work... And an even bigger mistake was to take his 28-year-old son Bill and 24-year-old daughter Martha to Berlin. They spent all their time at night clubs and Martha, who was secretly married and going through a divorce, was a very promiscuous young lady, which did not escape anyone, especially not the Gestapo, since she was sleeping with its head.

The sad part was that Ambassador Dodd's heart was in the right place. But without a supporting group behind him, there was little he could do to make a difference. The Germans more and more looked down on him. Especially after he tried to set them straight a couple of times, at dinners and in speeches. He really tried to help people, he tried to get abused Americans restitution, but to no avail. He also tried to make the State Department understand that it was wrong for Embassy people to waste private fortunes on parties, that they could not work just when they wanted to and go off to play golf or whatever when they felt like it. But of course, no-one listened to him in Washington D.C. Finally, he had to realize that the only thing he could do personally, when Washington did not listen to his warnings about Germany and about the service itself, was to be the beacon in the darkness till his time was over. He and his family could only observe when the Long Night of the Knives took place and other nightmarish events.

It was an uplifting book to read, in the way that I could read with my own eyes, what this man saw at an early stage. And Ambassador Phipps from Britain, likewise. There were people who reported home, and to the press, what was going on and came with astute warnings. They understood what was happening, they understood what Hitler's ultimate plans were, but unfortunately, the people who could have done something, did not want to do anything. Their concerns lay elsewhere. What was not uplifting to read of course, was the backstabbing that went on, the jealousies. Reading about how Martha, the daughter, transformed from accepting Nazism, to her seeing them for what they were, was upsetting because one would have thought she could have seen that from the start.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with two reservations. After 1934, when Dodd became disillusioned and felt like he could not do anything and that he didn't even have the President's support, he stayed in Germany till 29 December 1937. Sadly, the book skips the years between these dates and only at the end goes through the details of Dodd getting fired since FDR was too much of a coward to stand up to Dodd's enemies in the State Department and the Germans. He put a new Ambassador in Germany that completely licked the Nazis boots! And all was well... Or!?

My other reservation about this book is a strong one. In my hardcover version of the book, every page came out as I turned them. So now I have a loose leaf book! And the book is not THAT cheap! The glue is of a very poor quality in other words. Perhaps the paperback has better binding?
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on 17 September 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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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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on 13 June 2017
Interesting book but The Devil In The White City is Larson's best.
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on 20 January 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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