In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts

by Erik Larson

Gail Reid (09/12/12): Erik Larson writes two interlocking stories set in Hitler's 1933 Germany. The first focuses on William Dodd, President Roosevelt's appointed ambassador to Germany. Professor Dodd, far from Roosevelt's first choice, is an academic and poorly suited to joining the old-boy network of European diplomats. Dodd's passion is dedicated to his research and study of the old south, which he has had to put on hold while in Germany. Although his telegrams to Washington recount early attacks on the Jews, he spends much of his time railing against excessive spending by the diplomatic corps. At issue and of great concern to Washington is whether Germany will repay its debt to the U.S.

In complete contrast to Ambassador Dodd, Larson also writes about the ambassador's twentyish daughter, Martha, who has an endless number of affairs with well-known American writers, German military men including the head of the Gestapo and a Russian spy. Martha sees herself as an artistic and literate socialite allowing the reader to see the social structure of Nazi Germany during Hitler's chancellorship.

The book is heavily referenced; and clearly the amount of research involved is extremely impressive. However, I found it to be a dry read in spite of Martha's antics. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year but for me it was not the page-turning experience that critics and fans exclaimed.
Rating: ***

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