In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

“The nation must know that its existence cannot be menaced with impunity by anyone, and that whoever lifts his hand against the State shall die of it”


Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts is an exceptional body of research. Meticulously studied and documented, fascinating historical nonfiction. Must read book!

In 1993 William E. Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago, became America’s ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. This scholarly and humble man could not fit into an extravagant social life of the Nazi elite. Moreover, his modesty and frugality did not win support of American diplomatic officers and State Department. Many people, especially his enemies, called him ‘diplomat 20151210_170643 (1)[1]by accident’ because he was not the first choice of President Roosevelt.

Actually, In the Garden of Beasts is a story of very unhappy man. A scholar, an erudite, who accepted a job that he was too good for. Through whole book I could feel how miserable he was. His passion was teaching and writing, not attending and organizing parties that cost fortune! It seems, diplomacy does not need decent and intelligent people. Diplomacy needs those who like to socialize and spend as much money as possible. Diplomatic officers should represent their countries and interests of their citizens rather than looking for any opportunity to indulge themselves. I guess many of us experienced poor consulate services, for example, lack of response to the inquiries.

While Dodd’s experience in Nazi Germany was negative, his daughter Martha was fascinated with new environment, enjoyed never- ending parties and companionship of Nazi men. It took a while for her to finally open her eyes and realize what was going on. One might argue that Martha was confident and liberated woman, but in my opinion, she did everything to disgrace her family’s good name. Everybody around Dodd knew what Martha was doing but not him. He was always blind to his daughter’s behavior. In my opinion, Larson unnecessarily focused so much on Martha’s affairs; details of her sex life denigrate this read.

There are many people who blindly believe that only Germans were responsible for the Holocaust. This book proves that every Western country was guilty of atrocities against Jews. Neither USA nor any of European states did anything to prevent genocide. Without a doubt, Nazis were inhumane but those who were silent about massacres of Jews should be regarded as inhumane too. Everybody was silent…Americans, British, or French. Nowadays, there are various minorities around the world that are subjected to ethnic cleansing and international community allows it to happen.

What I really like about this book are short chapters. What I like even more is that author surprises with a few mini chapters (one and a half page), which are harbingers of the following chapters.

I have read many opinions that Larson made Dodd’s story boring.  In my view, the extensive research and message of this book are more important than highly entertaining language.

In overall, valuable and ambitious book.

7 thoughts on “In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

  1. Great review and absolutely brilliant post! Yes- I agree it’s shocking how many people are willing to hide behind the lie that it was just the Nazis. Like you said, everyone else turned a blind eye to it- the Brits turned Jews back to the concentration camps, the Lithuanians happily partook in their own pogroms blaming the Nazis after the fact, and the French practically handed over their Jews with a ribbon on top. I’m really interested in Dodd’s story. This sounds like a fascinating book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your comment! This books touches really important topic and is worth reading. However, know that the language is not very entertaining. Many people say this books is boring.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this book several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. It probably was not as popular with readers of Larson’s “Devil in the White City”, which was much more dramatic, but it was still very well-researched and interesting. I found the underlying theme–how a ‘civilized’ nation can so easily descend into committing the most barbaric atrocities–fascinating.

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  4. Thank you for your comment! I have not read Devil in the White City so unfortunately I cannoy compare. I think that there are so many bad comments about In the Garden of Beast because people find it borring. Still, for me this is a great piece of research.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Personally, I greatly preferred “Garden of Beasts”. “White City” is good, but very disturbing. (It’s about a serial killer). Not that “Beasts” wasn’t also disturbing, but it has a useful lesson about society and government.

    Liked by 1 person

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