Monday, September 17, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Last year my youngest son was required to read a certain number of pages in a semester for his English 10 class and also to do a book report on each book read to meet the goal.  He is interested in the time period of WWII and so he chose this book.  I think the title intrigued him and it also had over 500 pages, fewer books means fewer book reports written.  Anyway, he finished the book but said he thought it was boring - his complaining piqued my curiousity and thus I just finished reading it.

In the Garden of Beasts is a biography of William E. Dodd, the first American Ambassador to Hitler's Germany.  It opens in June 1933 and then follows the career of Mr. Dodd as he becomes the Ambassador to Germany and works hard to extend diplomacy to a group of lunatics.  He starts out in an open minded manner and ends up seeing the Nazi's for who they really are.  Dodd tries to warn the United States of impending disaster but is largely ignored.  The book reads like a novel, with the twist that all the characters are very real.  The author did a wonderful job of putting flesh on the bones of Dodd and his family. I found the book interesting and recommend it for adult readers, Dodd's daughter is one of the main characters focused on and unfortunately, she led a very promiscuous life. While the descriptions are not excplicit, the author does discuss her relationships and lifestyle at length.  One unexpected result of reading this book was that it humanized the Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, that was recently murdered in Lybia.  Prior to reading the book, I tended to just think of these people as names in the news - it was hard for me to relate to them and their jobs.

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