Review: In the Garden of Beasts

Today’s book was never actually on my “to-read” list.  After I finished reading Garlic and Sapphires, I loaned it to my mother, and she handed me this, saying: “this is by Erik Larson, the guy who wrote The Devil in the White City.  You would like it.”  Doesn’t Mom always know best?

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In the Garden of Beasts is just one of Erik Larson’s narrative historical nonfiction novels.  The Goodreads synopsis is lengthy, so here’s the gist: In the Garden of Beasts is a biography of the Dodd family, who are sent to Germany so that the patriarch, William E. Dodd, can serve as the American Ambassador to Germany in 1933.  The book follows Hitler’s rise to power through the eyes of Dodd and his daughter.

All said and done, I give In the Garden of Beasts four out of five stars.

As can be expected, Larson has written another expertly-researched, beautifully narrative book.  The subject matter here is dark, but provides a much more granular and harrowing account of the early years of Hitler’s regime.  All of the key players, as well as the relatively unacknowledged players, are acknowledged in this book.  It captures the alarming ease with which the Nazi party snowballed out of control.

One thing that I didn’t realize when I picked up this book, however, is that it is truly a biography.  Larson goes to great lengths to describe the Dodds and their movements, as well as their personal lives.  Both William and Martha, his daughter, are simultaneously likable and exasperating.  When treating this book as a memoir or biography, I can only give it four out of five stars because I think that its end handles the rest of the Dodds’ lives in an incomplete and slightly sloppy fashion.  That said, to anyone who is interested in the historical rise of Hitler and a view into the American government’s perspective on that period of time, this is an excellent read that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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