Thursday, February 2, 2012
What We're Reading Now: In the Garden of Beasts
This month, the staff book club had a special guest, our director, Dr. David G. Marwell, who filled us in on some behind-the-scenes intrigues and bigger-than-life personas featured in Erik Larson’s new narrative non-fiction book, In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.
The book is about William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, her father telegraphed his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watched with alarm as Jews were attacked, the press was censored, and drafts of frightening new laws began to circulate.
At our book club meeting, David helped draw an even fuller picture of the time period and of some of the men the Dodds encountered, including Ernst “Putzi” Hafstaengl, the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Hafstaengl, whom David met in the course of his research, was once a confidant of Hitler.
It was a fascinating conversation about a compelling subject, but even if you don’t have your own in-house expert, you can read along with us next month. We’ll be diving into a work of fiction, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons.