In the Garden of Beasts Download by Erik Larson
Click Here to Download the Book The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. 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.
Reviews Larson, in my opinion, hit a home-run with this book. Reconstructing a historical context is never easy, and the kicker is that unless one were there, how could one know how accurate and correct it is. Moreover, one person's perception might now be another's. That said, I repeat, I feel Larson hit a home run. Talk about being a fly on the wall! An honorable academic, albeit frugal, accepts an ambassadorship that apparently none of the otherwise qualified candidates was willing to accept. Dodd was a totally decent gentleman, but totally out of his element when dealing with the nascent Nazi government. Accompanied by two adult children who do nothing to be an asset to his position, they come across as shallow and flighty., but most especially the daughter, who (by her own admission in a book she wrote many years later)was having fun cultivating suitors and lovers (such as the chief of the Gestapo and an attaché at the Soviet Union's embassy) while still married to an estranged husband back in the States. So skilled is Larson is re-creating a scenario, more than once I felt myself nauseated. And I had nightmares. Indeed, in an afterword, Larson wrote what a "dark side was revealed in himself just doing the research. Finally, I love the title. A garden suggests a placid place, not a place inhabited by beasts - which perhaps might more properly be the jungle. The Nazis, "beasts" if there ever were any, claimed they were re-building Germany as a paradise. But the title is also a clever translation of Tiergarten, Berlin's equivalent of New York's Central Park, which was once a hunting reserve centuries ago; it was also the name of the street the park on which the Dodd family resided.
This story is too fascinating and alive with too many compelling characters not to be made into a movie. I found it almost hard to believe it wasn't made up. The world would have been better off it had been. The Garden of the Beasts begins with the arrival in 1933 Berlin, of a history professor, the newly appointed Ambassador William E. Dodd, a 64 year old unassuming and modest outsider, not from great wealth or a prestigious university as were his predecessors, which will be cause for later misunderstandings. Dodd reluctantly takes the job no one else wants. His goal is an undemanding position so he can leave, what he feels
is his mark on the world, his completion of books about the old south. Nothing has prepared him for what lies ahead. He is accompanied by his wife, son and 24 year old free spirited and flirtatious daughter Martha. Martha is initially exited and enchanted with what she views as the color and energy of Berlin's rebirth. She enters a social whirlwind of parties, teas, dating and affairs with diverse and sometimes dangerous men, oblivious to the deepening darkness beneath the surface. She even once naively dismisses storm troopers who taunt and parade a woman down a street past a jeering crowd because the woman had associated with a Jewish man. Martha justifies the actions of the Nazis insisting they should not be condemned without knowing the whole story. Casual visitors to Germany could not see the Nazi's increasingly ominous and less subtle control, the policy of "coordination" and "self coordination;" in which neighbors denounced neighbors to the SA; the Aryan Clause which banned Jews from government jobs and restricted them from the practice of medicine and law; the 1934 law that barred Jews from editing and writing for German newspapers, and the increased attacks against American citizens. "Beneath the surface, however, Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep in the fabric of daily life. It occurred quietly and largely out of easy view." Dodd believed at first that the government would grow more moderate; the Jewish problem would ease and Hitler's government would fall. As he became aware of new repressive measures and new atrocities, he was struck by the German people's indifference and their willingness to "accept each new oppressive decree, each act of violence, without protest." The book deepens and gathers momentum, showing how as time passes and atrocities increase Dodd becomes more disillusioned even as American Jews back home are divided as to what to do about Germany's treatment of Jews, and the State Department pushes Dodd to focus on collecting Germany's debt to American creditors. Dodd and members of the state department also bicker over matters of seemingly little lasting significance as Germany steps up repression and arrests and appears to be preparing for war. We meet Hitler's long time friend, and commander of the SA (Storm Troopers), Ernst Rohm; Konstantin Freiherr von Nuerath, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs whom Dodd believes to be a moderate; Gestapo Chief, Rudolf Diels whom Dodd likes and Martha dates; Harvard educated, and foreign press chief, Ernest Hanfstaengl who arranges a meeting between Martha and Hitler, hoping they'll become romantically involved. We encounter Goebbels and almost see the expressions change on his face. We witness the enraged and blood thirsty Goring; and listen to Vice-Chancellor Papen, who believes, "Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in a corner he'll squeak." We are there and in on Hitler's purge, the "Night of Long Knives" when Hitler's SS and Gestapo moves against the SA and Ernst Rohm, and murders of over 85 people. We hear the crowd roar its approval when Hitler tells them afterward that he acted only in the best interests of Germany to save the nation from turmoil. We can almost feel Dodd's sighs afterwards, as he loses hope for peace and better relations and writes, "I do not see how anything can be done as long as Hitler, Goering and Goebbels are directing heads of the country." The book is dense with intrigue, murder, extravagance, romance, deception, paranoia, backbiting, lies and betrayals. We witness the attempts of some people to tell the truth. George Messersmith, America's consul general for Germany was warning the state Department as early as June, 1933 about the true magnitude of Hitler's threat. In 1938 Dodd says in a speech that, "Mankind is in grave danger but democratic governments seem not to know what to do." There were other warnings that were ignored or dismissed. By Dodd's speech in 1938 it was already too late. Erik Larson has focused on the events of 1933, and says, "Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time the course of history could so easily have been changed. Why, then did no one change it? Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime?" I think of the quote by Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
There were too few good men. Too few listened to them. No one acted, and too quickly, it was too late.
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