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November 2011
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bookworm Bookworm
By John Andrews

In September, my wife and I were fortunate to go on a cultural tour of Berlin, Potsdam and Dresden. During our stay in Berlin, our very talented local guide took us around the Tiergarten area where many of the foreign embassies are located and as he was describing the names of the occupiers of these fine residences, I thought how interesting it would be if one could find a book describing mid-1930s Berlin with some insight into why America and the Allies stood by as Hitler rose to power and rearmed Germany.

A lady member of our party came to my rescue and immediately recommended Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: love, terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin. I immediately downloaded the book on to my Kindle, and within minutes I was engrossed in this fascinating story, as the coach drove on to Potsdam.

The scene is set in 1933 Berlin, as William Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, in a year that will prove to be a turning point in history. As a mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd was by no means Roosevelt’s first choice as America’s ambassador to Berlin and in fact Dodd had no interest in the post either, for he was far more inclined to stay on his farm in Round Hill, Virginia completing his four-volume series that he called The Rise and Fall of the Old South.

Dodd arrives in Berlin together with his wife, son and daughter Martha. Dodd of course, in his duties as ambassador, attends glittering parties, meets Hitler and telegraphs his growing fears for peace to a largely indifferent State Department in Washington. His daughter Martha, in the meantime, becomes entranced with the so-called New Germany and has one affair after another, including the surprisingly honourable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. As the years darken ominously, both Dodd and his daughter find their lives gradually transformed until the bloody night that revealed Hitler’s true character – Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom that convulsed Germany and at last drove Roosevelt to issue a public condemnation.

This is an exciting read of non-fiction from the best selling author of The Devil in the White City, contains some unforgettable portraits of Germany’s new masters and sheds new light on why America stood by as Hitler rose to power.

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