In the Garden of the Beasts

Thursday, January 5, 2012

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

I’ve really enjoyed Larson’s other nonfiction works. The Devil in the White City was interesting (and is being made into a movie) and I loved Isaac’s Storm. His newest, In the Garden of the Beasts, details Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. There are some remarkable details about this era and those carried bits of the book, but as a whole it felt slow.

I think my main problem with this book was the lack of sympathetic characters. This is nonfiction, so that’s not the author’s fault. Obviously you won’t be feeling sorry for any Nazis or for Hitler himself, but there were few others who were worthy of those feelings. The American family, the Dodds, is made up of a strange group. The father is painted as a miserly, self-important man. No one, even his co-workers, seemed to like him very much. The daughter, Harriet, was apparently fascinated by the Nazis and was passed around like a call girl. Despite being married, she had relationships with multiple Germans in the party and someone even tried to fix her up with Hitler.

My favorite part of the book was learning about the Jewish resistance in America. When we look back on World War II it’s so easy to ask why no one did anything to stop it, but in reality, there were many people who tried to stand up against Htiler’s regime. Even if they weren’t able to bring an end to the horrors before they got out of control, at least they recognized what was happening and stood up in opposition to it.

It’s not Larson’s best work, but I did learn more about Hitler’s rise to power and I’ll look forward to his next book. If you’ve never checked out his account of the Galveston hurricane in 1900, Isaac’s Storm, I would highly recommend it as a good place to start with his books if you like nonfiction.

Image from here.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I would agree with you, but probably would pull it down a star. I was fascinated by the level of treachery years before the invasion of Poland. Especially the "Night of the Long Knives" which was INSANE. But I really could care less about that family. They were not sympathetic characters, none of them. Frankly, it took all the strength I had to get through this book which was really disappointing, based on how much I loved Devil in the White City.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I'm starting "The Devil in the White City" in audio today. Reading it together with some friends.

Interesting point about sympathetic characters in non-fiction. Never really thought about it before, but I guess they are as important for you to connect with the story as in fiction.

BookQuoter said...

This came highly recommended by my son-in-law. Perhaps I have to put lower down my list then.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I hope you try Isaac's Storm sometime. I think you'd really like it!

Alex - I hope you like it! I've been reading about the movie their making of it and it should be interesting.

BookQuoter - There are so many great WWII books out there. This one just didn't quite measure up.

Jenners said...

I keep hearing similar things .. that it just wasn't as good as his previous books. I think I'll have to check out Devil In The White City at one point.

Anonymous said...

I've had this on the shelf awhile now, but it seems there are always a couple books ahead of it. I read The Devil in the White City several years ago and liked it. Imagine my surprise, though, when I read that one of Holmes's murders occurred just a couple blocks from where I used to live here in Irvington(!)

I still want to read this one too. Just not sure when I'll get around to it. :-)


Jeanne said...

I've had this one on my shelf for a while, because after reading The Devil in the White City I thought I should read anything he writes. You've tempered my expectations for when I eventually get to it.

B said...

I haven't read any of Larson's other books, and I've got this one sitting on my TBR. It seems to be the consensus for those who read The Devil in the White City that they prefer that one to his latest. I'll still probably start with In the Garden of Beasts, and then I can look forward to reading his other works :)

Great review, Melissa.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - It's a good one!

bibliophilica - That's crazy! Holmes lived in Indianapolis for awhile too and that's where I'm from. It's chilling!

Jeanne - I still think Isaac's Storm is one of his best books. This one just isn't as impressive.

Brenna - That might be the best way to do it, because then your expectations will be lower. I hope you enjoy it!

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I only skimmed your review because I downloaded this to my Nook a few days ago...don't want to "cloud" my opinion. I have loved his other works -- Isaac's Storm and Devil.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melissa Mc - I really liked both of those books as well!