In the Garden of the BeastsDecember 28, 2011 at 7:06 PM | Posted in Books, Uncategorized | 10 Comments
Tags: Eric Larson, Martha Dodd Stern, William E. Dodd, William Shirer
In the Garden of the Beasts by Eric Larson seems like one of those novels that drop famous people into its dinner parties (‘as I was saying to Proust as he dipped …’), novels that strain belief. But this is a work of non-fiction and a great one.
I am by no means a student of the Nazi era in Germany but I’ve read a number of books, including The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer and seen the famous news reels many times. The story is always shocking – perhaps because Germany is a great country with so many great men; perhaps because there are so many American’s of German ancestry.
This is the story of a new and inexperienced U. S. Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, who took over just as Hitler was gaining steam. Dodd was a professor and got the job after many had turned it down. He came with his family, including his daughter, Martha Dodd Stern, one of the great flirts of all time. He had studied in Leipzig as a student, was fluent in German and very naive. But at the end of his four years, he was one of the few Americans who understood what was happening under the world’s nose.
The gang’s all here: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, Rudolf Diels, Ernst Rohm and the “Zelig”, Putzi Hanfstaengel and we see them in their offices, at rallies and at the dinner table. Russians? Yes, as lovers and spys.
Dodd was there for the “night of the long knives” and I must say that Hitler reminded me of Michael Corleone taking down his enemies while at Church for his nephew’s baptism, except that Hitler performed several of the executions himself. I was surprised by this as Hitler is one of the greatest cowards in the rogues gallery of leaders.
We, of course, know how the story ends but here is a new angle in, and one well worth reading and thinking about.