(2012) #37 review: In The Garden of Beasts


In the Garden of Beasts:
Love, Terror, and an American Family
in Hitler’s Berlin



Narrated by Stephen HOYE

Published by Random House Audio
in 2011
12:55 hours






A male member of my block book club highly spoke about this book. That’s the advantage of my “trading titles” book club: I hear about books I may not read, and I get all kinds of recommendations, all genres, some more geared to men, some more to women. As I needed a book on Germany for three of my reading challenges, I trusted F. and listened to this book.

It was really good, giving an always astounding picture of what the world at large, and particularly Americans in this book, thought about Hitler on the eve of his hellish endeavors.

The book describes the rise of the Third Reich in daily living in Berlin, with gruesome details of what was progressively happening, when the rest of the world was thinking Hitler was a jerk with no real power who was going to disappear quickly from the political sphere. How wrong…

I liked the presentation of Dodd’s character, who felt progressively stuck in an impossible situation, after having accepted a job (American ambassador in Germany) he never really looked for nor liked, and who kept dreaming about peaceful days at his farm where he could finish writing his book. He was one of very few American diplomats who could feel what was coming, and as such was not respected, to say the least, by his peers. The tension between them is very well described.

Dodd went to live in Berlin with all his family, and the book focuses as well on his daughter Martha, who had other kinds of relationships (some very close and intimate) with all kinds of key people of the time. It makes history quite interesting when the daughter of the American ambassador in Berlin flirts or falls in love with Nazis or a Russian on the eve of 2nd world war…

The book comprises lots of documents, excerpts of diaries, interviews, that make it really lively.

I thought this was a very cool title, as The Garden of Beasts happens to be a famous park in Berlin where Dodd liked to walk. Of course the title contains more insinuations.

I have to admit this was my first book by Erik Larson, but this will definitely not be the last!


I recognize non-fiction is more difficult to narrate than fiction. Still, I was a bit disappointed by the audio performance of this book. I kept listening because of the quality of the content, and managed to ignore the flatness of Hoye’s voice. I think he could have inserted more variety in his tone of voice, but the whole book is basically read with the same almost boring tone. It sounded too uni-dimensional to me, not dynamic at all. I’m surprised it was nominated for the Audie Awards this year in the History category. I don’t think the narrator added anything to the book at all, and I would suggest you actually read this book instead of listening to it.


The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror. [Goodreads]


Erik Larson, author of the international bestseller Isaac’s Storm, was nominated for a National Book Award for The Devil in the White City. He is a former features writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, where he is still a contributing writer. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s and other publications.

Larson has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon, and has spoken to audiences from coast to coast. He lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, a dwarf hamster, a Chinese fighting fish, and a golden retriever named Molly. See his website for extra material: http://www.eriklarsonbooks.com



18 thoughts on “(2012) #37 review: In The Garden of Beasts

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  6. That Martha was something wasn’t she?!!! And I didn’t think she was all that attractive, but whatever! My review isn’t due to post yet, but my favorite part in the book was when the State Dept. felt the need to write a memo to FDR advising against criticizing the treatment of Jews, or the Germans might point to the treatment of blacks in the U.S.!


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  10. My husband just read this and liked it OK, but not as much as he liked Devil int eh White City.

    Sorry, I have lost track of whether you finished the European Reading Challenge or not. There is a Wrap Up page available, so if you do a wrap up post, please add your link on the page.


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