The popularity of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (Crown, 2003) has never flagged — with adults. His new book, about the rise of the Nazi Party in early 1930s Berlin as witnessed by American Ambassador William Dodd and his family, in particular his daughter Martha, might do better with teens. The Holocaust and Hitler himself are of perennial interest to high school students. Larson strives to recreate life in Berlin during the time when Hitler was first becoming popular, when anti-semitism was growing, when Hitler might still have been stopped. It doesn’t matter that we already know the outcome, it is at times a tense read.
Early Word reported yesterday that In the Garden of Beasts is already, one week after publication, #1 on Amazon.
Of course, this book might end up seeing more teen readers as required or supplementary reading for history classes. Larson still does all his own research, and the pages of back matter are a great model for students.
Adult/High School–It was a measure of how reasonable President Roosevelt thought (or hoped) Adolph Hitler would be when he appointed University of Chicago Professor William Dodd to be the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1933. Dodd did not exactly fit in with what the majority of foreign service members believed service meant (fancy parties and lavish homes): he was frugal, an academic, and preoccupied with writing his book on the Old South. He was accompanied by his wife and his two adult children, son Bill and daughter Martha. Martha, a communist sympathizer, was sexually liberated and given to inopportune affairs, including simultaneous ones with Boris Winogradov, an NKVD agent, and with Rudolph Diels, a member of Hitler’s leadership. It is clear from Dodd’s personal diaries, official memos, and other communications from the Embassy that Hitler’s rise and Germany’s movement back toward a militaristic society were discounted by many in the diplomatic community. Interwoven with Dodd’s story is an account of Hitler’s cronies (Goering, Himmler, et al.), their scheming for power, the creation of the Final Solution, and how events in Berlin unfolded prior to 1938’s Anschluss. Larson often points out the moments when things could have been stopped, when the world could have stepped in, and how slowly the realization came that Hitler was unreasonable and unstoppable. Teens looking for a different take on a subject studied in-depth in high school or those simply interested in learning more about World War II and America ’s early response will appreciate this book. It will also work well as auxiliary reading for history courses.– Laura Pearle, Hackley School, Tarrytown , NY