This is an utterly fascinating and readable true story of Ambassador William Dodd and family's experiences living in pre-WWII Berlin.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago who was not Franklin Roosevelt's first choice for ambassador, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter Martha. They settle down in Germany's capital in the midst of the turbulence that marked the rise of the Nazis. The young and beautiful Martha is impressed with the "New Germany" and gets caught up in the social whirl and intrigue of the Third Reich. She ends up having affair after affair with a series of international diplomats. It is her father who ultimately brings her down to earth with the growing evidence of Jewish persecution and the cutthroat Nazi administration, the reality of which he cannot convince the indifferent U.S. State Department.
The beauty of this book is its ability to convey to the reader a "you-are-there-ness", that sense that can only be derived from eyewitness accounts of history without hindsight's advantage. Larson's exhaustive research pays off with such telling details as Martha's meeting with Hitler when she notes his hypnotic eyes and gentle manner, or the author's finding that Hitler's favorite movie was King Kong.
This book reads like a novel and the author's narrative skills excel as he is able to lend tension and suspense, chapter by chapter.
If you are a fan of history, this book is a rich treasure trove, a skillful narration that puts you there in Berlin, the 1930's, when so much history was being made. Could it all have turned out differently? How was it that the world stood by and let so much tragedy happen? These are the curiosities that will forever haunt history, but one can glean a wealth of answers from such masterful nonfiction as In the Garden of the Beasts.
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder