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madbkwm

madbkwm

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson Before reading this, I knew some about Hilter's rise to power, but not alot. Certainly I had never heard of the American Ambassador Dodd and found the whole concept of a book from his (and his daughter Martha's) point of view compelling (especially since I enjoyed Devil in the White City so much). Larson gives a very detailed account of Dodd's first 18 months in Germany (from June 1933 through Nov/Dec 1934). And then, in the last 30 pages or so (about 10% of the book), he sums up Dodd's remaining 4 years in Berlin and gives the epilogue of "where are they now" and "when/how did they die" for alot of the people in the book.

This left me disappointed. Certainly if Larson had pressure from his editor to keep things short (maybe it's hard to sell non-fiction over 350 pages??), he could have just ended the book in 1934 with a brief coda. Instead, he tried to lump the last four years in quickly and then summed up Dodd's life with all these quotes about how he was ahead of his time and really one of the best ambassadors possible. BUT the bulk of his work does not support this conclusion. I was fond of Dodd (and had mixed feelings about Martha), but absolutely had not come to the conclusion that he was doing a good job. Yes, Larson frequently mentions that the official concern with Dodd is his criticism of the "pretty good club" (read old boys club) and ambassatorial spending rather than anything significant. However, Larson also portrays Dodd as plain, not all that interested in the job (must get back to Old South), and really just a place holder. How, then does it come about that his old nemeses are so favorable towards him in their writings after his death? There seems to be a story there and one that Larson would be particularly qualified to uncover (or to speculate upon). Instead, he rushes through these years and leaves the reader unsure as to how/why the change of heart occurred.