Review: In The Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Title: In The Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Author: Erik Larson
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks/Crown Publishing--Trademarks of Random House, Inc. 2012
First published in Hardcover May 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction
Labels: World War II, Nazi Party, Hitler, Germany, History, Socialism, Communism, Soviet Union, America
Format: Paperback
Age: Adult
Pages: 480
Rating: 5 Stars

William E. Dodd age 64 is a professor and writer from Chicago, he became the American Ambassador to Germany in 1933. He was reluctant to take this position, even though President Roosevelt personally called him by phone. Dodd, his wife, and two adult children Martha and Bill, arrived in Berlin, Germany July 1933. They are not in Berlin long when the threatening nature and criminal activities of the Nazi Party become apparent. Dodd is a reserved, sober-minded, practical man. His wife is a minor character in the book. She is a loving and supportive wife. In my opinion she seems to be an obtuse person. She seems absorbed in nonsensical things. Son Bill is also a minor character. He continues his education in Germany. Martha stands out with a dynamic part in this book. Her fraternizing with members of the Nazi Party, and well-known communists, should have been troublesome to her parents. Yet, her parents turn a blind eye so to speak. The book begins in 1933 and follows the family until 1937. There is an epilogue which gives closure to the family.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-K0108-0501-003, Rudolf Diels.jpg
Rudolf Diels and Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstaengl
My Thoughts:
If the book had been about William E. Dodd alone, it would not have held my attention. Although his work in Germany pre-World War II was interesting and important, and it gave a viewpoint from an observant American. It was Martha Dodd that gave sparkle to the book. I have to admit she was a scoundrel, lacking in morality, lacking in American patriotism, lacking in faithfulness, and lacking in how she appeared or would be remembered for history. I believe she was a woman that was constantly swept-up emotionally in the temporary moment. A book psychoanalyzing her might have been interesting. Her father was an American Ambassador to Germany, America's key representative appointed by the president. Yet, Martha did as she pleased without care, or even remorse. But, because of her life choices, she gave a view of history of some of the individuals in the Nazi Party that the public might not have seen. For example: Rudolph Hess, Heinrich Himmler, Ernst Rohm, Rudolf Diels, Ernest Udet, Putzi Hanfstaengl, and Adolph Hitler. I find her interesting, yet abhorrent. She is the epitome of the song, I Did it My Way.

Why did I give this book 5 stars for excellent.
  • Even though Martha gave a sparkle (so to speak) to this book. The author never lets her take away from the horrors of the genocide of the Jewish people, nor any of the other innocent lives the Nazi's murdered.

A link to see in old film footage Martha Dodd:

Link for book @ Amazon:
Paperback $12.40
Kindle $11.99


  1. I really enjoyed this book too, and agree that Martha was a fascinating trainwreck of a person to hear about.

    I found it very chilling--both in what was going on in Germany at the time, and the inability of Dodd to convey that effectively to his superiors in the State Dept.

  2. Annette, thanks for linking in. the new BYL edition will be up in a few days so you might want to link them there as well. I put the titles etc in for you - no worries. Cheers

  3. Glad to see you really liked this book. I bought it ages ago, but still haven't read it. Martha does sound like an interesting person to read about, but I'm glad that her story doesn't overshadow what happened under the Nazi regime.


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