Like all of Larson’s history books, In the Garden of the Beasts consists of a series of delightfully written vignettes and in this case covers Bill Dodd’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the first four years of FDR’s presidency. It’s a good, but flawed, history of Hitler’s emergent government that includes a lot of insights into the inner workings of Nazi political society.
I found a big failing of this book to be the (untypical for him ) tendency of Larson to not complete all the stories, leaving you wondering what really happened to its characters after Larson closed the file in his word processor.
Some are covered in the epilogue, but the biggest omission is the full story of Dodd’s tenure in Berlin. After covering the first year of Dodd’s Berlin duty the book jumps to his unhappy exit, return to America, the sudden death of his wife, and his own slow death.
Many of the stories of Dodd’s first year in Berlin are focused on the salacious behavior of his daughter Martha, whose many and very hot affairs with Brits, Americans, Russians, and Germans, were infamously well known, and gave Dodd a lot of inside information she was able to obtain about the direction and character of Hitler’s government.
The other story that carries the reader along is Dodd’s unhappy relationship with the State Department which, if you’ve ever followed the history of the US government side of WWII you will know that State in that era was a mean-spirited bunch of rich critters who may have cost us progress in the war and most certainly prevented many Jews in Hitler’s path from migrating to the United States.
Larson is a fine historian and a great writer and this is a good book, however not his finest 400 pages.