In the Garden of Beasts
by Erik Larson
2011 Random House,
Reviewing books is fascinating. The range of emotion that is generated from what I read It is constantly amazing and often surprising.
In the Garden of Beasts is a non-fiction best-seller, chosen as a monthly selection for my Philosopher Club group. The cover reflects a story about Nazi Germany. When I began reading, my interest level was low. Why? Because, I thought, it an old story that was well known to me from prior work.
As is often the case, my initial impression was dead wrong. In the Garden of Beasts is a story about the American Ambassador to Germany in the middle-1930s as the Nazi power was being consolidated. William E. Dodd was an unlikely candidate for FDR to appoint, after many more apparently able diplomats had turned down the Presidential tender.
Dodd and his family took up residence in Berlin as the beasts took control. Erik Larson wrote a wonderfully readable story about the frustrations encountered by Dodd and his family, including the lascivious social life of his daughter let loose in the social scene of Berlin. Dodd tried to blow the whistle for the world to wake up and see the horrors that were building in the Nazi empire. Unfortunately, America and the rest of Europe were in isolationist mode following World War I. The world stood aside as the beasts took control.
The implications of Dodd’s experience have many thoughtful lessons for our current diplomatic times. It seems that the world is beset with political, social, military, and cultural divisions. It often feels like the world is adrift. As I turned the final chapters of Larson’s brilliant story, I wondered if there is a voice in the world today trying, in vain like Dodd, to illuminate a positive way forward. I surely hope so, though I do not know where it is.
I encourage you to read In the Garden of Beasts and then think through whether the same mistakes are being made in the world of today.