In order for society to move forward, we have to learn from the past. Till this day, the mystery and intrigue of Adolf Hitler’s reign in Berlin is most likely still being studied and analyzed. While I’m not a historian, it is still amazes me from time to time to learn about what happened in past histories and events. Specifically, it’s interesting to learn how past rulers and tyrants got their power and what they did with it. No one is more interesting in this aspect than studying and reading about Adolf Hitler himself. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (ItGoB) is a true story about the life and journey of an American ambassador and his family in Berlin during Hitler’s reign. Using memoirs and diary entries, the author puts together an interesting journey in Berlin through the eyes of someone who has actually been there and seen firsthand an event in history that would forever remain an intrigue. “In the Garden of Beasts is a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign, brought to life through the stories of two people: William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime, and his scandalously carefree daughter, Martha. Ambassador Dodd, an unassuming and scholarly man, is an odd fit among the extravagance of the Nazi elite. His frugality annoys his fellow Americans in the State Department and Dodd’s growing misgivings about Hitler’s ambitions fall on deaf ears among his peers, who are content to “give Hitler everything he wants.” Martha, on the other hand, is mesmerized by the glamorous parties and the high-minded conversation of Berlin’s salon society—and flings herself headlong into numerous affairs with the city’s elite, most notably the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet spy.”
I’ll start off by saying that if you want to read a book learning about the Furer himself, ItGoB is not it. In fact, you’ll be left disappointed as I was upon completion. This book is not a biography of Hitler himself, nor did it ever claim to be for that matter. Rather, it tells the story of what happened during the first years in Berlin during Hitler’s reign. More specifically, it talks about the many officials and Nazi generals that gave influence to Hitler’s reign of power. Understand that this is a non-fiction book (not fake). The main character of William Dodd is America’s ambassador to Berlin. Being labeled as an outcast, Dodd refuses to live by the standards of other current diplomats with their lavish lifestyles. The other main character is Dodd’s daughter, Martha. With her care-free personality and sexual charms, the book goes into long details about her love life.
I really don’t know how to rate ItGoB because it’s based on a true story. However, that doesn’t make it any more fun to read. Throughout the book, you’ll be reading about dozens and dozens of telegrams sent back and forth between Dodd and his countless amount of associates back in the United States. Because of their diplomatic status, Dodd and his family were relatively safe in Berlin from the Nazi officials and soldiers. However, other people were not afforded that same privilege. Dodd’s main job and task as ambassador was to get the German government to pay back their huge debt to the United States. Dodd on the other hand seemed more concern about the actual situation concerning the Jews and their persecution in Berlin and Hitler’s government running afoul. Throughout the book, Dodd goes head to head with other state officials in pleading his case for the United States to intervene but more often than not, his pleas fall on deaf ears until it was too late. Martha’s character was a great pain to read at times. For example, the book accounts her many lovers and I for one don’t really care about all that. I skimmed through so many of her parts toward the middle and end of the book. She does have some interesting parts being how she wanted to be a writer and whatnot but this evidently went nowhere. Dodd’s son and wife were hardly talked about in the book.
ItGoB has many, many boring parts but I feel that this can’t all be the author’s fault because he is only accounting the actual events that happened. It’s not like he could have just added some events in there just to make things more interesting for the readers. In fact, I give the author a lot of credit because I’m sure he spent a whole lot of time putting this book together. However, the book really felt dragged on for far too long and many parts could have been left out. The result is a book about how the Nazi party and Hitler’s reign of power came to be, sort of. The sad part is it doesn’t go into details about how everything ended. However, you do get hints of internal power struggles within the Nazi camp which ultimately lead to it’s downfall. Some of the most interesting chapters in the entire book focuses on a single event in which history dubs “The Night of the Long Knives”. This event however, doesn’t happen until much later in the book and so you’ll definitely have to be patient. It is through this event that you get the sense of Hitler’s crazy and truly demented mindset. Sadly though, the story ends shortly thereafter and I’m left with a sense that a whole lot more happened since that event but was left out.
In the end, my suggestion is don’t read ItGoB if you want to learn more about Hitler himself. There aren’t even that many encounters in the book between Dodd and Hitler himself to make it worth your time. If you do actually want more information about Adolf Hitler, it’s better if you find a biography book about him instead. ItGoB is a semi-good read if you’re interested in getting a glimpse of the early years when Hitler first came into power and why nothing was being done to stop his regime. But make no mistake about it. ItGoB is a long read and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself skipping a lot of the pages because you’ll most likely figure out at one point or another that what was being said (or written) doesn’t really contribute to anything at all. I guess you can say that ItGoB is a good place to start if you’re beginning your journey into understanding what took place in Germany during Hitler’s reign. For a more deeper understanding though, you’ll definitely have to look elsewhere.