President Franklin D. Roosevelt probably didn't realize that when he sent mild-mannered history professor, William E. Dodd, to Germany in 1933, as ambassador and charged him with maintaining stability and protecting U. S. investments, he was also sending Dodd's exact opposite-- his high-spirited daughter Martha. While William assessed and reported on the situation in pre-war Germany, growing more and more alarmed at Hitler's blatant aggression, Martha fell in love, literally and figuratively, with Nazi Germany. Although the 22 year old left an estranged husband in New York, she embarked on a series of love affairs with as diverse a group of men as the head of the Gestapo and a Russian agent. At one point, one of her friends thought that she would be a good match for Hitler and arranged a meeting for them. When they first arrived in Berlin, Dodd, his wife and their grown children, Martha and Bill, found the political and social climate cordial, if not overly welcoming. Part of the problem was that Dodd was not the typical diplomat, men who were rich and socially and politically connected. Because he was determined to run the embassy on his salary and not augment it with personal resources, the Germans and fellow diplomats looked down on his parsimony. He was never made a member of the "Pretty Good Club," the tight-knit group of career diplomats who proclaimed that being a diplomat was a "pretty good" job. As Hitler continued his murderous rise to power, Dodd tried to warn Washington about the inevitability of America's involvement in a war in Europe, but he was largely ignored and was encouraged to resign his post in 1937.
In the Garden of Beasts is a fascinating look at the society that immediately preceded and gave rise to the Holocaust and World War II. There are intimate glimpses of Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Rohm, and many of the other luminaries of the age as they attended carefree social functions while planning the mass annihilation of millions of people. Initially, Martha found the Nazi leaders charming, dating many of them and commenting on Goebel's sense of humor. To her credit, though, she recognized their inhumanity early on and became an outspoken critic. Unfortunately her ties to her Russian lover and visits to Russia caused her to adopt communist sympathies that led to her becoming an outcast in America. William E. Dodd retired to his farm in Virginia, resumed his scholarly pursuits and died in 1940, never knowing that his insight into the pre-war events and his unheeded warnings would be a respected piece of U.S. history.
Erik Larsen combines letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, public testimony and private commentary so skillfully that In the Garden of Beasts reads like a novel. With Stephen Hoye's flawless narration, minor characters, as well as Nazi giants, populate a world of frivolity and terror, immersing the listener in the precursor to one of our nation's most horrible eras. History buffs and casual readers alike will find this audio book engrossing, enlightening and entertaining.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
Read by Stephen Hoye
Random House Audio, unabridged: 13 hours on 11CDs