Following the newly named American ambassador William Dodd and his family in 1933 to Germany where the Nazi party had already begun its tumultuous rise to power, through to Dodd’s unwillingness to depart at the end of 1937, In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson, is the biographical account not only of this otherwise unassuming academic and the loved ones that accompanied him, but an excellently researched book that helps explain how such an evil group of men could be allowed to assume power so brazenly and plunged the world into one of its darkest periods of history. Named after the Tiergarten, a hunting preserve established for the royalty, which translates to the “garden of the beasts,” the book focuses on most of the action in its vicinity, as it was lined by embassies, government and Nazi institutions, along with an adjoining shopping district where prominent figures came and went about their business. It however also became the backdrop for the exploits of Dodd’s daughter, whose initial sympathies to a Germany still wrestling with the World War I reparations imposed upon it by the allied victors, saw her enter into an affair with the head of the Gestapo, not to mention a Russian NKVD agent – precursor to the infamous K.G.B.. The story as a result zips along as Hitler rises to power while Ambassador Dodd struggles to impress upon his superiors back home clear evidence of Germany’s increasing persecution of its Jewish citizenry, and the growing militarization, suggesting it unlikely the Nazis would ever settle their country’s outstanding debt. Unfortunately, such reports where received coldly by a State department insistent upon the payments, and their belief that the ambassador’s appointment a poor one from the beginning.
For anyone interested in the events that helped lead up to World War II, or a window into the types of men that surrounded Hitler and helped his rise to power, this book is an excellent choice, drawing upon extensively footnoted first hand sources, which also contains some interesting details from the period.