In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Larson's topic, exploring what life was like in Berlin during the first years of Hitler's regime, as seen through the eyes of the American Ambassador, William Dodd, and his family, doesn't exactly break new ground but it does highlight how the world was sure that Hitler was not a huge threat and would be reasonable.
Dodd doesn't exactly fit in with what the majority of foreign service members thought service meant: he was frugal, an academic, and more interested in pursuing the writing of his book on the Old South than in living the Ambassadorial lifestyle. His daughter, Martha, was sexually liberated and given to inopportune affairs. We learn little about his son, Bill, and wife Mattie, unfortunately. Interspersed with their observances are stories from other sources of how things were changing in subtle ways. Hitler's rise and Germany's movement back towards a militaristic society are discounted by many, and Larson often points out the moments when things could have been stopped, when the world could have stepped in, and how slowly the realization came that Hitler was unreasonable and unstoppable.
On a few occasions, Larson inserts an anecdote that doesn't quite have the import that he seems to think it does, and there are some duplicate descriptive passages. Other than that, this is an interesting look at an era about which we all too often think we've read or heard everything.
ARC provided by publisher.