My Book reviews /

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Title In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Authors Erik Larson
Publisher Broadway Books
Date 2012-05-01
Pages 480
ISBN 030740885X

This book has been New York Times bestseller for several months. It describes only short span of HitlerтАЩs reign, namely from 1933 to 1934, from the perspective of the United Sates Ambassador in Berlin. Why wouild anyone bother with those early years? Most people think that тАЬinterestingтАЭ stuff occurred a few years thereafter. In fact, Hitler did not even have absolute power in 1933, and nobody was taking him seriously. So, why would anyone write a book about a jester, as Hitler appeared as such during his early years?

I think that the author tries to show that Hitler himself is not the main reason behind the Apocalypse that followed. It is rather the deep unprofessionalism of everybody surrounding him, and the failure of world to repond to the threats of this mediocre government. This is one point that author makes very clear: the United States failed to intervene, and WW II is the result. So, think about what we should do in Iran.

The book describes the US Ambassador Dodd and most importantly his daughter Martha. In fact, she was so obsessed with making friends among Nazi officials, that many of them became her lovers. It is a freaky situation when a government of such a mighty country as Germany is heavily influenced by a daughter of US Ambassador (she became Soviet spy later on). And the author makes it very clear that State Department was just a Pretty Good Club, meaning that diplomats were wasting lots of money throwing parties for Nazi officials, etc. Well, probably State Department has changed since then, but the author makes no such claim. So, this book conveys a clear anti-diplomatic feeling. I am pretty sure it aims at attacking present-day Democratic Party which many people describe as descendants of Pretty Good Club.

So, yes, this is very politically motivated book which connects American past and present times. And maybe it even tries to influence future. The bookтАЩs message is very clear: тАЬThose in power are idiots and prostitutesтАЭ. Based on AmbassadorтАЩs diary, the author says that Hitler looked like тАЬsuburban barberтАЭ, and Himmler as тАЬchicken farmerтАЭ (who indeed he was). However, the book concentrates not only on the top Nazi officials such as Himmler, Goebels, and Goring, but rather on the second level, their deputies such as head of Gestapo Rudolph Diels, Ernst тАЬPutziтАЭ Hanfstaengl who was simply HitlerтАЩs friend and musician, head of SA Ernst Rohm, etc.

Those second-tier people in fact shaped GermanyтАЩs daily life. So, the prosperity of the country and the direction in which it was moving was clearly dependent on them. And what were they doing? Partying and making love with each other. Government business was of somewhat lesser priority to them. The book mentions Soviet diplomat Boris Winogradow (and of course undercover KGB agent) who fell in love with Martha Dodd. He became so careless that he dared to date Martha without KGB permission, so they killed him. Now that dozens of his love letters have been made public, it is pretty clear that Soviet spy had very tender soul, just like a child: he used to hug Martha and kiss her cheek, the stuff that humble teenagers like to do. But he was supposedly a grown-up professional spy. Not so professional, and not so grown-up as it turned outтАж

The book concludes with description of bloody massacre aimed against Rohm. Since the government officials spent most of their time partying, Hitler kept receiving reports about their тАЬconspiracyтАЭ and at one point decided to shoot them all. And he did shoot hundreds of his own government officials in a matter of days, just because they look тАЬsuspiciousтАЭ. I think the book makes it clear that this purge triggered subsequent violence and started WW II. Indeed, people were so scared by this unexpected purge that they did not dare to critisize Hitler for his actions. Instead, they started praising him for his courage.

Lie after lie. German people started by saying Hitler was тАЬgreat politicianтАЭ (he was mediocre), then ended up in a sea of blood. Now they described him as тАЬbraveтАЭ and then Germany lost millions of lives in WW II. The message is clear: a small lie can only produce a bigger lie.

Lying is a sin, and sin can be removed only by sacrificing a lamb, or innocent people. History taught us this lesson numerous times.

This book is like a slow-motion movie: a few hundred pages about just 2 years. But it makes it very clear how the events unfolded: citizens kept praising Hitler, German government officials kept partying with American officials, and Soviet spy Boris Winogradow kept writing love letters.