Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Mem. Ed. $17.99
Pub. Ed. $25.00
You pay $0.25
Means of Escape
The telephone call that forever changed the lives of the Dodd family of Chicago came at noon on Thursday, June 8, 1933, as William E. Dodd sat at his desk at the University of Chicago.
Now chairman of the history department, Dodd had been a professor at the university since 1909, recognized nationally for his work on the American South and for a biography of Woodrow Wilson. He was sixty-four years old, trim, five feet eight inches tall, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair. Though his face at rest tended to impart severity, he in fact had a sense of humor that was lively, dry, and easily ignited. He had a wife, Martha, known universally as Mattie, and two children, both in their twenties. His daughter, also named Martha, was twenty-four years old; his son, William Jr.--Bill--was twenty-eight.
By all counts they were a happy family and a close one. Not rich by any means, but well off, despite the economic depression then gripping the nation. They lived in a large house at 5757 Blackstone Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, a few blocks from the university. Dodd also owned--and every summer tended--a small farm in Round Hill, Virginia, which, according to a county survey, had 386.6 acres, “more or less,” and was where Dodd, a Jeffersonian democrat of the first stripe, felt most at home, moving among his twenty-one Guernsey heifers; his four geldings, Bill, Coley, Mandy, and Prince; his Farmall tractor; and his horse-drawn Syracuse plows. He made coffee in a Maxwell House can atop his old wood-burning stove. His wife was not as fond of the place and was more than happy to let him spend time there by himself while the rest of the family remained behind in Chicago. Dodd named the farm Stoneleigh, because of all the rocks strewn across its expanse, and spoke of it the way other men spoke of first loves. “The fruit is so beautiful, almost flawless, red and luscious, as we look at it, the trees still bending under the weight of their burden,” he wrote one fine night during the apple harvest. “It all appeals to me.”
Though generally not given to cliche, Dodd described the telephone call as a “sudden surprise out of a clear sky.” This was, however, something of an exaggeration. Over the preceding several months there had been talk among his friends that one day a call like this might come. It was the precise nature of the call that startled Dodd, and troubled him.
Excerpted from In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Copyright © 2011 by Erik Larson. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative nonfiction, and in his new book, the bestselling author of Devil in the White City turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.
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. It was a year that saw Hitler’s ascent from German chancellor to absolute dictator—and the chilling prelude to the cataclysm of war and murder that would soon engulf all of Europe.
A mild-mannered history professor from the University of Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son and flamboyant daughter, Martha, to Berlin. 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 U.S. State Department. 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, ever-increasing tension—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
“I have always wondered what it would have been like for an outsider to have witnessed firsthand the gathering dark of Hitler’s rule,” writes Larson in the prologue to In the Garden of Beasts. “How did the city look, what did one hear, see, and smell, and how did diplomats and other visitors interpret the events occurring around them?” Larson captures the feel of the time with remarkable sensory detail. But, more important is the question at the heart of his narrative. “Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time the course of history could so easily have been changed,” he reflects. “Why, then, did no one change it?”
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.
Hardcover Book : 464 pages
Publisher: Crown Publishers Inc./Random House ( May 10, 2011 )
Item #: 13-361530
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 1.05inches
Product Weight: 16.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Reviewer: mary e
I loved all of his previous books and was really anticipating reading this book. Unlike Devil or Thunderstruck, there was little weaving of events or people into a suspenseful story that really gripped the reader. Since I have read a great deal about WWII, there was not a lot of new information here for me. The story of the Dodd's was interesting but not really a page turner. William Shirers "The Nightmare Years" is a much better book as far as the story of the rise of the Nazi's is concerned.
FELT LIKE A MOUSE IN THE CORNER WATCHING QUIETLY. TOTALLY ENJOYED THE BEHIND THE SCENE VIEW OF THE GOINGS ON. AND INSIGHT OF THE AMBASSADOR WAS RIGHT ON TARGET. COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN.
Reviewer: Julie M
Making a nonfiction book read like a novel is not really possible, because you can't make up conversations in a nonfiction book. But this comes really close, which testifies to the author's research skills. Marry it with "Germany 1945" and perhaps something like William Shirer's opus, and you have a good collection about World War II.
Reviewer: Tom D
Larson's approach to getting the reader to see the decay/decline of Germany from the outside in was effective. Amazing how we were able to stay out of the war for almost a decade of strife before Pearl Harbor and that Hitler's conflicts with his armed forces weren't his undoing. The evolving of Martha Dodd brings another very interesting book to the forefront: "The Quest for Anna Klein" by Thomas Cook. I happened to read these books back to back; both complement each other leaving the reader with much to ponder about human nature and events that spur people to change their life course and course of history.
Reviewer: Nancy F