In the Garden of Beasts

in the garden of beasts erik larsonYou know how there are authors you really do mean to read but you've just never gotten around it? You probably even own some of their books. That's Erik Larson for me. I like good non-fiction and I've been told that Larson writes some of the best of it. I just... never quite found the time. A few weeks ago we met up with some friends of mine and In the Garden of Beasts came up in the conversation. My friend told me that I really had to read it. Like me, he had studied World War II history in university, though he focused more on America's role in it than I did. A week later it showed up on my library's express loan shelf so I nabbed it. I'm really happy I did.

Because I focused mainly on Canadian and British WWII history I don't really know a whole lot about the American efforts. I mean I do, it's really quite hard to study Allied history without knowing something, but it's really only been in the last few years that I've started reading books that focused on the American history of the time.

I certainly didn't know much of anything about William E. Dodd, the America's first ambassador to live in Nazi Germany. He had a rather unique opportunity to see what was really happening in Germany at the time. I must confess that I doubt I would have liked Dodd very much had I met him. He was a rather dry academic, the kind I tended to avoid when I was studying. He was an odd choice for a such a prominent position. He didn't have many friends in politics. He was not particularly wealthy. And he probably wasn't the most diplomatic of diplomats.

Dodd's daughter, 24 year old Martha, was... interesting. She was a bit of a loose cannon. After reading In the Garden of Beasts I'm honestly not sure if her presence in Germany helped or hindered her father. Martha's slightly wild ways, her many lovers and her falling to both the appeal of Nazi Germany and Soviet communism in turn certainly didn't help her father's reputation. At the same time, though, I have to think that by being the means of attracting so many younger people to the Dodd's home in Berlin that she helped exposed him to more of Germany than he might have otherwise been aware.

Reading this you are reminded again of how hard the world wanted to believe that the Nazi party and Hitler were not what they seemed. You start to wonder why they so willingly didn't choose to see it and then you remember that propaganda is powerful and that these men in power had already been though a world war. They knew what war meant and they, none of them, wanted to be the ones that pushed the world there again.

Fabulous really, and I must bump his other books up my TBR list.