I read Momjovi’s post before I published this post — and I really shouldn’t because her review is fabulous and will put mine to shame 🙂 Go read it if you want another perspective of this book (I’d love to read Dadjovi’s review as well!).
For the first official book club book we read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.
The title could not be more apt because this is really the book in a nutshell! I have also read Devil in the White City and Thunderstuck – and while I don’t think this book is as horrifying as Devil in the White City, it is equally as well written.
This book tells the story of U.S. Ambassador William Dodd and his family as they live in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. Dodd is not a politician by any means. At the time he was selected to be U.S.’s ambassador he was a professor attempting to write the history of the Old South.
He was picked for the job because of some of his affiliations and he was considered “vanilla.” Not likely to stir the pot and basically do what he was told. Without giving away the entire plot — I will get to a few of my questions…
1. Why do you think everyone was so in love with Hitler? Even Dodd seemed to have a political crush on him when he first arrived in Germany. I think that everyone – Americans included – were looking for someone to help Germany rise above the state they were in. And America just wanted their money back. Hitler gave them a false sense of hope and he was good at laying blame in a way that resonated with the majority of the German population. There was also a fear of Hitler that became more and more prevalent. I truly felt bad for many of the Germans that were brainwashed by hope. They just wanted to redeem their country and I think in many ways Hitler took advantage of that.
3. Did you like the Dodd family? What were your first impressions? Did it frustrate you that the “Pretty Good Club” had it out for Dodd? I actually really liked the Dodd family. I was wary of their initial acceptance of Hitler/Germany, but knew that wouldn’t last long. I thought it valiant of them to try to live within their means while they were continuously surrounded by opulence. People were basically laughing at them and throwing money in their face and they stood their ground. They could have easily given into the enchantment and peer pressure, but they stood ground. I can’t say I would have done the same. Oh, and I HATED the “Pretty Good Club.” It reminded me of every “Good ‘Ol Boy” I’ve ever met (and yes, they are still around).
4. Let’s talk about Martha. Were you surprised by her, ahem, “behavior”? Did you approve? Do you sense a double standard from the author? Why do you think her parents just turned a blind eye? I think Martha was the driving force behind this book. So many conversations, letters, and journal entries were about her and her involvement with Nazi Germany. Without her discretions, we might know as much as we do about Hitler’s Germany! I was fascinated by the fact that she was so open about her sexuality (but so secretive about her 1st marriage!). I was also fascinated by the fact that her parents completely turned a blind eye. Have an affair with Rudolph Diels? No big deal. Meet Hitler to become a possible girlfriend – go for it! Go to Russia for Boris Winogradov, sure why not (although, I guess they didn’t really like that, but they certainly didn’t stop her!). She was a modern women stuck in the 1930s when Women’s Rights were still in a fundamental stage. I kinda loved her. I also pitied her.
7. What disturbed you most about this book? I knew Hitler was evil, but I didn’t realize HOW EVIL until I read about June 30th, 1934. The fact that Hitler ordered friends and the family of friends to be murdered viciously just blew my mind. The fact that they don’t even know how many people were murdered because of Hitler amazed me. This was a huge turning point of the book for me – and obviously for Hitler. If only we realized his absolute power before it reached this point.
9. Could you draw any correlations from this period in history to current/recent history? I couldn’t help but think of everything going on in the Middle East and correlate it to 1930s Germany. I am typically anti-US involvement in foreign politics, but if history DOES repeat itself (and it does – I believe that) I can understand why the US does get involved in things that are none of our business. I’m not saying we should be at war with anyone – but turning a blind eye like we did about Germany and the Soviet Union is not the answer either. Gah! So much to think about.
10. Did you like this book? What were your overall thoughts on the way the story was told? This book started out very slow for me – but it was definitely worth the read. I absolutely LOVE the way that Larson writes. I times I had to remind myself that it was a NON-FICTION book. All of the conversations documented ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I also had fun reading the footnotes – but I’m a total nerd like that 🙂
Bonus question – What the hell was Bill (Dodd’s son) doing the whole time they were there?? Let’s get creative.
I think he was in mime school. How else can you explain the fact that he never spoke! Or maybe clown college?
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