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Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts

Book Review:  In the Garden of Beasts
by Tif Sweeney

Many readers are familiar with Erik Larson because of his nonfiction success, The Devil in the White City, a book that remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than three years (when combining hardcover and paperback editions).  When I read Devil years ago, it immediately made it on my list of favorite books; therefore, when I saw that Larson was releasing a new book this last May, I knew that I had to read it.

Whereas his previous bestseller took on a serial killer during the World’s Fair in Chicago, In the Garden of Beasts takes on a whole different villain, one that may be the most frightening in history, Adolf Hitler.  However, compared to a number of other books that are published on the topic, Larson takes a tad different approach–he investigates Hitler’s Germany prior to and during his rise of power from an American point of view.  Writing from the perspective of William E. Dodd, the appointed ambassador to Germany, and his family, we learn what life was like immediately following Hitler’s appointment to Chancellor in 1933 until Dodd’s departure from his position and the country in 1937.


Larson has an amazing talent of writing a nonfiction book that is filled to the brim with research, so much so that it reads like a fiction tale.  As the reader, I became so invested in the characters and so involved in the era that I simply could not put the book down.  I know how the story ends, but I had no idea at the details of the Hitler regime and just how fascinated I would be by them.  On the other hand, I was also frightened to the core!  I had to constantly remind myself that this was no fiction tale.  These instances actually happened and many, many innocent lives were tragically lost.  I continued to ask myself throughout the book, “How did Hitler ever make it as far as he did?”  Dodd himself warned the people, both in Germany and the United States, of the worst that was yet to come.  He was simply shrugged off as not being qualified to hold the position and therefore, unable to speak on the subject.  Dodd may have had his adversaries, but he also had his advocates through the years.  I found myself in the latter group, routing for him along the way.

I closed the book in complete shock at my new knowledge, yet once again satisfied with another novel by Larson.  In the Garden of Beasts is a must read for anyone interested in the Holocaust, war, true crime, and those that even read thriller and suspense fiction.  Heck, I think I would actually recommend this book to anyone who is willing to listen!  Larson has succeeded in adding another book to my list of nonfiction favorites.

For more information on In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson, and his other pieces of work, I recommend that you visit his website, complete with all this information and more.

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