Quicklet on Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

by Arwen Lee Adams Bicknell

What's in the book?

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    • About the Book
    • About the Author
    • Synopsis
    • Key Terms and Definitions
    • Chapter-By-Chapter Commentary & Summary
    • Additional Resources

Description

ABOUT THE BOOK

Erik Larson paints a compelling picture of 1933 Berlin, a time when Adolf Hitler was rising but did not yet hold absolute power — and, in fact, few expected his government to survive. Larson explores the rise of Nazism from the perspective of the newly arrived U.S. ambassador and his family. William E. Dodd, a circumspect professor and unlikely candidate for America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany, struggles with the protocol and conflicting demands of his heart, his nation, and his duty while his daughter, Martha, finds the social scene vibrant and thrilling. In time, they come to see the ugly truth about Hitler and his plans but even then their efforts to raise the alarm are largely discounted back home.

MEET THE AUTHOR

With degrees in journalism and history from the University of Southern California, Arwen Bicknell has worked on newspaper copydesks across the country for more than 20 years. In her free time she writes novels and tries to get them published. You can read her blog at arwenbicknell.com or follow her on Twitter, @arwenbicknell.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

Protocol and promiscuity. These are the two angles from which Larson chooses to explore the power-grabbing days of Adolph Hitler leading up to the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler purged his enemies and laid the last bit of groundwork to seize complete power in Germany. Tired of being overworked at the University of Chicago and in search of a sinecure, mild-mannered professor William E. Dodd — historian, Jeffersonian Democrat and would-be author of the definitive work on the antebellum South — instead lands in a job he is woefully ill-equipped to perform. Tapped to serve as the U.S. ambassador in Berlin, he packs up his family and together they all make the journey into a foreign land and an even more foreign culture: that of the diplomatic and political elite.

Larson does a good job of balancing the diplomat’s headaches and blunders with the effusive enthusiasm of his socialite daughter, who manages to land as lovers several of the leading U.S. and German luminaries, from Carl Sandburg and Max Delbruck to Gestapo chief Rudolf Diels and Soviet spy Boris Winogradov. While the characters’ naivete is believable, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are entirely likeable. William Dodd’s assessment of the situation appears credible, if sweetly foolish. Martha Dodd, on the other hand, comes off as almost obstinately flighty and shallow, and the fact that she turned her allegiances from Hitler’s Nazis to Stalin’s Communists without appearing to have learned anything simply bolsters that impression.

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