Friday, May 27, 2011

"In the Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson

Around the time I completed Love Wins by Rob Bell, I also finished reading the Erik Larson book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

Larson writes historical non-fiction and previously did the excellent Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck and Isaac's Storm, all of which I posted on close to three years ago. I've wondered at times just how much of the detail in Larson's books is real and how much extrapolated, but I've decided as a reader that it's both entertaining and real enough, with what I've read at the very least passing the smell test around authenticity.

In the Garden of Beasts looks at the rising power of Hitler in prewar Germany through lens of new U.S. Ambassador William Dodd and his mid-20's daughter, Martha Dodd. It's well researched and along providing a view of prewar Germany, chronicles how Hitler and his ascent could well have been kept in check had the U.S. and other countries taken a less isolationist (and interested in German repayment of debts) view and and censured Hitler's anti-Jewish actions.


While reading Larson, I found myself thinking of The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. It was based on the fictional premise of Charles Lindbergh defeating Franklin Roosevelt for the Presidency in 1940 and the U.S. taking dual paths of isolationism from the war in Europe and discrimination against Jews here at home.

Roth's work was fiction, but based on real possibility as there were groups in the U.S. who firmly wanted to let Germany do what they will (a "not our problem" approach) and also wanted to curtail opportunities for Jews.


Going back to the Larson book, this early U.S. attitude of not making waves with Hitler and the German government helped clear the path for his consolidation of power and growth of the German war machine. Obviously, the U.S. later entered the war in Europe and Germany was defeated, but it perhaps Hitler could have been stopped earlier.

All conjecture of course, but an interesting thing to think about and Larson does a good job in his book of writing about Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha as vehicles to detail Germany at the time and Hitler's taking of control.