Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review - In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts
Erik Larson
A reader of books about Germany and the rise to power by Hitler could assume that there is nothing more to be written on that subject. The reader would be wrong.

Erik Larson asks readers to “put aside what we all know-now-to be true, and try instead to accompany my innocents through the world as they experienced it.” These two innocents are Frank E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Germany, and his daughter, Martha.

Frank E. Dodd is not President Roosevelt’s first pick for the America’s ambassador to Germany, but time is running out and America needs a representative. A historian known for his work on the American South and Woodrow Wilson, Dodd enters Germany in 1933 when President Hindenburg is the remaining “counterbalance” to Hitler’s power and in-fighting between Hitler and his subordinates contributes to the precariousness of being an Ambassador. Dodd’s “sober” temperament runs contrary to the diplomatic flurry of late-night dinners and living beyond one’s means. He is uncomfortable in the world of diplomacy where Hitler power brokers mix freely and frequently with foreign dignitaries and expectations are that America will stay out of the internal German conflicts.

Although Frank Dodd views his job as Ambassador seriously, his flirtatious twenty-four year old daughter does not. Martha takes full advantage of the many social opportunities inherent in his father’s position without regard to the consequences of her behavior for herself, her family, or her father. Eventually, Martha pays a price for her blindness to the everyday world of Germany, 1933. 

It is the everyday living of Ambassador Dodd and Martha Dodd which makes this book stand out in a crowded field of non-fiction reads. It also raises the often-discussed question, “What makes a hero? Is Frank E. Dodd a hero? Did his actions which did not ingratiate himself to the powerful or elite make him a hero”? 

Read In the Garden of Beasts so you can answer this question for yourself.