Saturday, June 22, 2013

Love and Terror in Hitler's Berlin

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

Excellent. If you like non-fiction presented and told very well, you'll really like this. Wm E Dodd was picked by FDR to be ambassador to Germany in 1933 (after several others turned FDR down), a period of Hitler's rise to power, while Hindenburg was still alive and before Hitler had full and unchallenged power. So, it gives an intimate look at all the well-known Nazis - Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, Rohm, etc. But it also gives a intimate look at many of the more minor and lesser known Nazis also - Diels, "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, Franz Papan,etc. What I found interesting is that it's like you are on the ground when some crazy things were happening - when the laws against Jews became increasingly more radical and violent, when the Night of the Long Knives took place, when it was still unclear whether Hitler could weather the various power stuggles, etc. It provides insight into how a person like Hitler could come to be - insight into the uncertainty that many people had about him, debates about whether he was good for Germany or bad, how some people saw it clearly and others didn't. A great look at what Berlin was like as a city during this time.

Erik Larson captured Wm E Dodd's experience best by the choice he made of the quote before the first chapter begins, a quote from the opening of Dante's The Divine Comedy - "In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost." No doubt Larson intends this to be descriptive of the collective experience of all humanity during these years.

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