Larson’s ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ sheds new light on Nazi Germany

| July 7, 2011 | 1 Comment

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Are you a World War II junkie? Love history and politics? Here’s a great read for you.

As Adolph Hitler was gearing up his Nazi steamroller, Ame­rican diplomat William Dodd tried to warn the U.S. government.

“In the Garden of Beasts” tells how and why Dodd couldn’t convince either Frank­lin Delano Roose­velt or the high-society members of the U.S. Foreign Service that Hitler shouldn’t be treated like the leaders of other countries.

Dodd’s tenure as ambassador to Germany comes alive in Erik Larson’s latest superb nonfiction work. The brutality of Hitler and his Nazi brethren is pal­pable.

Plucked out of the history department of the University of Chicago, Dodd may have been a third or fourth choice for the post in Berlin, an appointment FDR made under pressure of a deadline. Naive enough to have his family Chevrolet shipped to Germany when the world’s ambassador class generally used limos and chauffeurs, Dodd’s middle-class values put him at odds with the consulate staff in Berlin, made him the source of German leaders’ ridicule, and, worst of all, caused his reports to be disrespected by those in Washington who should have been listening to his warning cries.

Don’t be put off by the nonfiction character of “In the Garden of Beasts.” Larson has done amazing research here, but the way he fashions the change in Dodd and Dodd’s daughter, Martha, too, from being lovers of all things German (Martha in more ways than one!) to a critical analyst of that country’s leadership and people is brilliant.

Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit. Read more of his book reviews here.

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