The Talking Book Program’s Phone-in Book Club recently discussed THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS (DB 77138). While the focus of the book was on the University of Washington crew that rowed its way to a Gold Medal, it also provides glimpses of life in Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler.
Not for the first time, I asked myself how good, decent people could fall under the influence of the likes of Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels. While there are no truly “good” answers to that question, Erik Larson’s IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: LOVE, TERROR, AND AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN HITLER’S BERLIN offers a compelling and unique account of Germany’s descent into “savage darkness.”
A master of narrative nonfiction, Larson is the author of ISAAC’S STORM: A MAN, A TIME, AND THE DEADLIEST HURRICANE IN HISTORY (DB/DX 48811), DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY DB/DX 55748), and DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA (DB 80936).
Larson spotlights William Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1933-1937. Dodd is a modest History professor and native Virginian who courageously confronted Confederate Civil War veterans early in his academic career. Dodd’s adult daughter, Martha, is an intriguing complementary figure. At first enamored by the energy of the Nazi revolution, Martha is soon gripped by “deepening revulsion” at its brutality.
Dodd was one of the few diplomats or politicians who had both the foresight to recognize what Hitler would become and the courage to speak about the evils of Nazi Germany. However, his superiors in the State Department ridiculed Dodd at every turn as a crude maverick, and he was eventually replaced by a career diplomat who stressed the “positive aspects of Nazi Germany.”
From the “Night of Long Knives” to Kristallnacht, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS casts Dodd as a “lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness.”
NLS Annotation: Follows the lives of U.S. ambassador William E. Dodd and his family, who moved to Berlin, Germany, in 1933. Discusses their attitudes toward the Nazi Party, obliviousness to Hitler’s true character, and naive reactions to the persecution of Jews and Americans and the enforcement of stringent laws. Bestseller. 2011.
Movie buffs should note that a film adaptation of IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS is in the works, with Tom Hanks rumored to play the role of Ambassador Dodd.
To learn more about IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, and Hitler’s rise to power, listen to a 2012 interview with Larson on NPR’s “Fresh Air”: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/04/151378813/the-u-s-ambassador-inside-hitlers-berlin
A master of narrative nonfiction, Larson is also the author of ISAAC’S STORM: A MAN, A TIME, AND THE DEADLIEST HURRICANE IN HISTORY (DB/DX 48811); DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (DB/DX 55748); and DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA (DB 80936).