Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts
It’s unbelievable, even if it’s all true
The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck author Erik Larson excels at bringing the past to life and making it frighteningly real, letting his readers wait breathlessly to find out what happens next even though, after all, they already know how the story ends. He does not disappoint with In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, the story of William Dodd, the “diplomatic Cassandra” American ambassador to Berlin during the Nazi era. Dodd himself is a fascinating character, what many today would consider the American ideal of a man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, one who was looked down upon by his more effete colleagues. Dodd, to no avail, tried to convince his colleagues back home of misgivings regarding Adolf Hitler, but instead was taken to task for not recouping German debts to America. His adult daughter Martha furnishes the most character of the story, an independent woman according to any era, albeit one with questionable tastes and allegiances (she was encouraged at one point to pursue a romantic relationship with Hitler himself). Larson marvelously colors in what could easily be overlooked corners of his narrative and takes his time letting the most shocking and sickening story — that of the actual events in history itself — unfold. It’s unbelievable, even if it’s all true.