“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 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.