In The Garden Of Beasts Summary

Erik Larson

In The Garden Of Beasts

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In The Garden Of Beasts Summary

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Released in 2011, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is a work of historic nonfiction set in the early years of Hitler’s Germany.Larson presents the story through the experiences of United States Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd, who served in that position from 1933 to 1937, the period during which Adolph Hitler’s power was beginning to take root and grow.Rumblings of what was transpiring in Germany had potential candidates for the ambassador position unenthusiastic about assuming it; it became a significant issue in the early period of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Dodd had long served as a professor of history at the University of Chicago.He had never entered the political arena but did frequently entertain the notion.He was never a rising star in academia and had been passed over during the years for other governmental positions related to diplomacy.When he learned of the possibility of becoming the Ambassador to Germany, he was about to retire from his teaching position to focus on writing.President Roosevelt needed an immediate decision when he offered Dodd the position, which Dodd accepted.Along with his wife and their two adult children, Dodd boarded an ocean liner to Europe. Before leaving on the journey, they, like others, had heard the talk of the violence that accompanied Hitler’s becoming the German Chancellor.Upon arriving, they found the city to be interesting and the people to be welcoming, leading the Dodds to assume that the news reports of unrest in Germany had been greatly exaggerated.

It was ironic that Dodd became the ambassador;he was not a top choice for the position that others had turned down, and he was not known as a man of great ambition.At the age of sixty-four, he was not looking to change the world or verify what was going on in Germany.He largely thought the position and the place would afford him a quiet opportunity to complete work on a book he was authoring.His twenty-four-year-old daughter, Martha, was a flirt who approached living in Germany as an adventure and who, later in life, would become a well-known author and an accused Soviet spy. Dodd’s twenty-eight-year-old son, William Jr., kept a lower profile than his sister.

After several months in his new position, Dodd began to realize that the Third Reich was in fact a threat that was growing more significant. Dodd, however, was limited in what information and observations he could make public, as he was bound and limited by American foreign policy. Dodd felt conflicted by the situation in which he found himself.The State Department and President Roosevelt were, via reports they had received, aware that the violence against Jews, as well as Americans, in Germany was growing worse and that the power of Hitler and the Nazi regime was increasing.There was, however, no urgency on the part of the administration to make a public display of opposition to the situation, and the administration largely remained quiet for various reasons.The State Department felt it necessary to keep its diplomatic ties with Germany.Jews in America feared for their relatives still in Europe, worrying that if the United States were to denounce Germany, the harsh conditions would escalate.Additionally, at this time, the prevailing feeling among American citizens was that they did not want the country to become involved in a war in Europe.

Dodd knew that one of his options was to simply abandon his position and return to the United States, taking his family out of harm’s way.He was too dedicated to his work to do that so chose to remain in Berlin for as long as he could.Eventually, he became vocal about the ever-increasing Nazi atrocities and returned to the United States in 1937.At that point, he decided it was his duty to tell the rest of the world what was truly going on in Germany; he was instrumental in shedding light upon the situation.

Filtering his narrative through the lens of Dodd and his family allows Erik Larson to give a new perspective to an often-told history.The New York Times Review of Books wrote, “In the Garden of Beasts has the clarity of purpose to see the Germany of 1933 through the eyes of this uniquely well-positioned American family. There are hindsight-laden books that see the rise of Hitler as a parade of telltale signs. There are individual accounts that personalize the atmosphere of mounting oppression and terror. But there has been nothing quite like Mr. Larson’s story of the four Dodds, characters straight out of a 1930s family drama, transporting their shortcomings to a new world full of nasty surprises.”