Friday, June 7, 2013

In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)

It’s not always the easiest task to review a work of nonfiction. While with fiction, the reviewer can concentrate on how interesting the characters and plot developments are, she can’t do that with nonfiction. Every word Larson writes is true and well researched using a plethora of sources. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin tells the story of an American ambassador who was one of the only ones who recognized the unprecedented danger of the Fuhrer. When he tried to tell his colleagues back home as well as President Roosevelt, he wasn’t taken seriously enough for the terrible damage to be contained.

Ask almost anyone if they have ever heard of William Dodd, and chances are, they will look at you with a blank stare. But he was a very important historical figure, acting as the American ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime. Larson tells the story of Dodd’s surprising ascent to the role, like a fish out of water, and the family’s eventual move to Berlin. Once there, the reader is taken deeply into the terrifying regime, where names like Hitler, Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, and Diels made their unfathomable marks in history. Today in the modern day, one cannot understand why things weren’t done to overthrow the government and deal with the unimaginable injustices, but Larson explores why many German people and foreign leaders just accepted the status quo…some even going so far as to glorify Hitler.

The best nonfiction books delve thoroughly into the subject matter without disrespecting their subjects. Larson does a masterful job at this, never spoon feeding his readers or mincing words. This is a story that deserves to be told, and the author does a masterful job at it.