In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson Book Summary

Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City, delivers a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
    A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
    Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

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In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson) Book Reviews

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- Nazi story brought to life unexpected.5 star

This book takes you back in time to an American family that got involved in Germany during World War II. The book was my first non-fiction that I read in terms of history involving wars. I am mostly a fiction reader and to read a story like this one blew me away. I wasn’t bored nor was I second guessing. The writing was good enough to keep me turning the page. Although I did get characters confused and the plot seemed to jump from one place to the other. I felt like I was an under cover agent in the ranks of the Nazi regime. This book will pull at your heart strings to make you say, “Aw man!” And also say, “No way?!” There were surprises here and there which I will not disclose. How the author described Hitler impressed me and I got to see Hitler for who he was instead of the constant hatred he had for the Jews. When it comes to mentioning the Jews, I think the subject was touched briefly upon. Yes they went through horrific things. To mention that a little bit per chapter kept that sensitivity to the story. I think without mentioning the Jews in this novel it would have read like a documentary. All in all, I recommend this book. If World War II is a touchy subject you don’t like then this isn’t for you. Because this novel takes the touchy subjects head on and morphs it into a story of discovery and self worth.

- Loved it5 star

Well-written and intense

- In the garden of beasts5 star

An insight into the horrors of man and how such things occured in a modern day society. How the rest of the world as proven in today’s world that such atrocities can continue to go on. A fantastic book that should be read by all!

- Camino island5 star


- Not nearly his best work2 star

I'm about halfway through this book and losing interest. I love E.L. And have read both "Dead Wake" and "Devil in the White City". I loved both of those books. This should be a fascinating story of the Nazi rise told through the eyes of American observers. All of the characters and events are there but the story plays slowly and most of it is only mildly interesting. Martha's many lovers grow tiring. Dodd is a disappointed lead character that is unimpressive and hard to feel much for. Later in his life, he ran over a child by accident causing severe injury and immediately fled the scene. This gives you insight into the fortitude of his character. Perhaps another American character would have had a more compelling story. Disappointed.

- Could not put it down.5 star

I don't generally read books about WWll but this is after all Erik Larson. I have never been disappointed by his work and after reading "In The Garden of Beasts" I am glad to say that it delivered everything I have come to expect from this author. The level of research is extraordinary in this oh so readable book. Mr. Larson is a storyteller of the highest caliber. His characters are so well developed you feel like you were there at these pivotal points of history. Fair warning, once you pick this book up you may find you can't put it down.

- Interesting read4 star

I thought this was well done. It does get a bit dry at times and the author seems to keep things going often by revealing the details of Martha's romantic life which are sultry but become a little boring after a while. Still, the author's gift for writing is evident throughout and I found his viewpoint on the Nazis very grounded and refreshing. Any history buff should love this one.

- Not a good read1 star

Not a good story. Not interesting.

- Zoom engsbeld5 star


- Good read5 star


- In the Garden of Beasts4 star

Very good book. A great look at Nazi Germany leading up to WWII.

- In the Garden of Beasts4 star

I learned a lot about per World War 2 Germany from this book. I was well-educated on the topic in both High School and then in college as an International Relations major, but this book revealed a perspective to which I was not previously exposed. It was most interesting to understand how the Third Reich slowly chipped away at people's sensitivities until they were able to get away with the most abominable forms of brutality and murder and justified it, not just to the point where society silently accepted it, but actually applauded it. And it was interesting to see it all through the eyes of a misfit of the finest democratic ethics and morality. I would recommend this as required reading in high schools so that our youth can identify what it looks like and feels like to have the government slowly take away freedoms and prevent it from occurring.

- Great story teller5 star

My favorite books are typically narrative non-fiction. I am glad to have stumbled upon Larson. This one had me the entire way through the notes section! I will now go read all of his others.

- Good Book Not Great4 star

It was an enjoyable read but I honestly didn't get much out of it other than a good diversion.

- Compelling Histo-Narrative5 star

Immersive character portraits of a dark and rapidly passing generation. Reads with imagery of rich detail and precise, well-documented accuracy. A must read for those seeking to understand how true humanity and personality guide and influence the glossy, media accounts of our history, scandals, and events.

- Sorry, but no cigar!2 star

As you can guess, I did not enjoy this book. To me it was just a compiling of interesting historical materials. I could not believe Martha wasn't shot or at least shone the exit door to Germany. Why didn't her parents the Dodd's ,exercised control over their daughter's every whim? I thought diplomats had control over their children. I also thought this book was about Mr. Dodd, not his daughter. thank you Susan

- Incredible.5 star

Incredibly well written, surprisingly gripping, and rich historical account. Highly recommended!

- Mediocre3 star

I was looking forward to reading this book as I am fascinated by this period in history and politics. I found myself bored in several sections, especially the first half and the more interesting sections were far to short. Ending was abrupt and unfulfilling.

- Get Ready!5 star

We all know about the horrors that slowly but surely rose in Germany,under the approving eye of HItler and his thugs. Ha! Read this book and you will soon realize how oblivious we all really remain. As you progress through these pages and read about the gradual but constant rise of evil, no longer recognized as such by the German people, you might become a little more aware of what is going on in your own country. I know I have.

- No terror....1 star

The subtitle is "Love, Terror, and an American family in Hitler's Berlin". IMHO the author only got two of the four right. I never felt the love or the terror. Admittedly, people fell in love (more like lust) and unspeakable things were happening everywhere but I did not feel either emotion while reading the book. The portrayal of the characters never came off the pages...they were flat without real personalities. It was my book club choice In the 7 + years of our club it was the first book that I was forced to skim thru. Unfortunate given the importance of this story in our history.

- Amazing5 star

I absolutely loved this book. If you are interested in WWII or German history this is it!

- Where are the footnotes?5 star

I found this book fascinating, but I was disappointed in no being able to see the footnotes as I read. I could get to them, if I wanted to flip hundreds of pages, but I couldn't simply link to then because the don't show up in the text. Please fix this! DShinn

- Eye Opening5 star

I found this book to be just as engrossing as others by this author. Many anecdotes were new to me although the pre-war Nazi Germany period has been covered many times. A sad story of a well meaning intelligent man serving in a thankless, impossible position. The ambassador's daughter could not possibly have been a worse diplomatic family member and that makes for some jaw dropping stories.

- In the garden of beasts2 star

Interesting history. The details of Martha's possible spying were given short shrift. Not much assessment of the ambassador.

- In the Garden of Beasts5 star

Though this book chronicles events that take place in 1933-1934, before Hitler's rise to total domination is complete, there is a lesson for today's America. I found the descriptions of the various factions of the Nazi regime, and what they stood for, to be eerily similar to what we're witnessing taking shape among the right-wing evangelical Christians who are trying to assume political control of all facets of American life. (As a point of reference see, for example, Rick Santorum.) By reading this book, there's a lesson to be learned about those who wish to control without respect for the rights of others. What the Dodds witnessed was not only the beginning of the oppression of Europe's Jews, but the oppression of anyone whose views were not the same as those of this evil and maniacal government. There was no respect for differences of opinion. There was no respect for those who simply wished to live their lives without threat or fear. The rise of Hitler's Germany, in so many respects, seems to be the blueprint that the ultra-right in today's America is following in its quest for the White House. All should read this book and be warned that it could happen here.

- A Great Read4 star

Once again Erik Larson writes a compelling book that is a real page turner. I couldn't put the book down because it is a refreshing story in the early days of Nazi Germany. While I wished to have more details the book itself was very good. Popular history is something I rarely read any more because they always seem to be dumbed down for the masses. This is not the case here as in previous books by this author. I look forward to see what he has next in the pipeline. If you want something new And refreshing to read might I suggest picking this book up.

- Riveting5 star

This is a riveting detail of Germany in the 1930s as viewed by the Americans there. At times I felt I was watching a horror movie, with that urge to yell to the characters, "Get out! get out!" It was terrifying to realize how few people could see and understand the evil threat posed by Hitler. Even better and more compelling than Larson's "Devil and the White City."

- In the Garden of Beasts5 star

An absolutely fantastic book which will teleport you in time to the 1930's and pre World War II America and Germany! It gives great insight into the politics of Roosevelt and of the barbaric mentally unstable Adolfo Hitler. Set during the great depression in America it reveals the sights, sounds and the fear which grew into a new normal in Germany. The Ambassador to Germany Dodd, while prejudiced and I suspect not pro jewish himself still was able to foresee and speak out against the coming holocaust of jews in Germany which was downplayed by public opinion and later caused Dodd's own isolation. He was then opened to ridicule rather than being taken serious by the status seeking bean counters in our State Department who had finally gotten him fired by Roosevelt. It's a sad and scary tale of events which really occurred during this time period. An excellent book!!!!

- Boring2 star

The book had some interesting stories, but I thought it was too long.

- Larson's best?3 star

If you read Larson's works like The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck, you know this isn't his best piece. I enjoyed Martha Dodd and Ambassador Dodd but both "characters" were flat and I never really cared about either. During several areas of the book, I felt as if I was reading a listing of daily activities with no details other than describing the day's weather. However, I was curious and enjoyed reading about Martha and her Russian lover. And, I did appreciate Larson's ability to hide the twist in their relationship- that I liked! If you like Larson, you have to read this book. It's good, just not his best.

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- In the Garden of Beasts5 star

Insightful viewof the subtle rise to power of Hitler. Well worth reading

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- Expect a good summer read just in time for Father's Day3 star

I hadn't read any of Larson's previous books but picked this one up due to an interest in the time period and seeing some good reviews. It definitely kept my interest but could use better editing. You're given hints of more to come on certain situations or characters and then nothing is forthcoming. Two major characters, Dodd's wife Martha and especially his son Bill, really fade into the background and many pages go by without hearing anything about them or their reaction to historical events occurring in their midst. In all fairness, Larson explains that this will be true at the beginning of the book but I definitely would have liked to have learned more about Bill's life in Berlin. Another small complaint: the Author sometimes moves ahead in time without letting the reader know that he has done so in order to complete one person's tale or recount a series of linked events, quickly moving back to the approximate point in time where he left off before being side-tracked. More importantly, Larson seems to shy away from the more personal, possibly because documentation didn't exist. I am curious about Dodd's opinions (and possible actions taken) regarding Martha's various relationships (many with potentially embarrassing diplomatic/political consequences) while in Berlin. Given Dodd's background and 18th Century era world-view combined with daughter Martha's behavior, I would have expected family fights--or at least discussion--aimed at reigning her in, undoubtedly an Impossible task given her strong personality. But more insight into the internal politics of the family would have been interesting. Larson owes, and credits, both Kershaw ("Hubris") and Evans ("The Coming of the Third Reich") for much of the historical detail of the times. I found both of these scholarly books more freightening, detailed and successful at capturing the flavor of the era than Larson's, but Larson is writing an entirely different kind of book (novelistic non-fiction?). This is basically an historically accurate (the footnotes are testament to that) good Summer read which will spike for Father's Day and continue to climb best-seller lists through Labor Day. Or you can wait for the inevitable movie that will likely be in muti-plexes two summers from now with Tom Hanks as the good ambassador and Anne Hathaway going against type as the naughty and politically confused daughter. For a few laughs, dig into some of the longer footnotes for a rare look at Hitler-era "humor" enjoyed by some Germans at the expense of Hitler and the Nazis.

- garden of beasts5 star

fascinating . sad to discover how profoundly easy it would have been to stop hitler if the west could have seen what Dodd saw. martha is an alluring character. why were people drawn to radical movements at that time ... ESP a woman of status ?

- In the Garden of Beasts5 star

Extremely well written and well documented - like all of Larson';s work - the book reads as a novel, rather than a non-fiction piece. That it is true makes the book even scarier. I love Larson's work, even when I think he has taken on a topic I don't care much about, or even one that I happen to know pretty well. I think that everyone will learn something from this story.

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@ChuckWendig In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson

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@ChuckWendig @TheCFullerton Erik Larson 'In the Garden of Beasts.' Just finished 'Polio; An American Story' by David Oshinsky.

5 star

@thor_benson I’m reading three: In the Garden of Beasts, The Cruel Sea, and Chasing New Horizons.

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@realryanpro Any book by Ken Follett or "In The Garden of Beasts" or "Beneath A Scarlet Sky" by Mark Sullivan. Both…

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@mariecountryman: @Jankowski60 @RisePDX @KittyBhagat @AmandaGtto @mellors_karen @lilith2u @EclecticRadical @Dennis_Lintz @DiaDiGiovanni…

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@mariecountryman: @Jankowski60 @RisePDX @KittyBhagat @AmandaGtto @mellors_karen @lilith2u @EclecticRadical @Dennis_Lintz @DiaDiGiovanni…

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@mariecountryman: @Jankowski60 @RisePDX @KittyBhagat @AmandaGtto @mellors_karen @lilith2u @EclecticRadical @Dennis_Lintz @DiaDiGiovanni…

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@Jankowski60 @RisePDX @KittyBhagat @AmandaGtto @mellors_karen @lilith2u @EclecticRadical @Dennis_Lintz…

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@dylanfremlin he’s historical non-fiction! the one that is most popular i think is devil in the white city and it’s…

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@urbanfoxwatch: Things those naughty beasts did last night; - stole a tea towel out of the kitchen - dug a massive hole in the lawn - de…

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@PaulHRosenberg This is a very good read for people interested in understanding some of how the world felt as Hitle…

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@urbanfoxwatch: Things those naughty beasts did last night; - stole a tea towel out of the kitchen - dug a massive hole in the lawn - de…

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@urbanfoxwatch: Things those naughty beasts did last night; - stole a tea towel out of the kitchen - dug a massive hole in the lawn - de…

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@urbanfoxwatch: Things those naughty beasts did last night; - stole a tea towel out of the kitchen - dug a massive hole in the lawn - de…

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@urbanfoxwatch: Things those naughty beasts did last night; - stole a tea towel out of the kitchen - dug a massive hole in the lawn - de…

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