In The Garden Of Beasts

By: The Company Of Books  05/12/2011

William E. Dodd was an unassuming history professor from the University of Chicago when, in June 1933, he received a phone call asking him to take up the post of US ambassador in Berlin. He had two hours to decide on his answer. No one else wanted the job at that time and in that place. Overworked in academe, Dodd wanted time and space to write his comprehensive history of the southern US states . . . He accepted the position.

In the Garden of Beasts is a riveting account of Dodd’s time in Berlin during the period when Hitler was coming to power. The book follows him as, at first unable or unwilling to believe what is happening, he slowly begins to accept the enormity and horror of the situation. ‘The Cassandra of American diplomats’, as he is later styled, he speaks his mind, predicts with accuracy what is likely to occur, and is for the most part simply mocked. It doesn’t help his situation that his daughter, Martha, not quite divorced from her American husband back home, is more than able and willing to carry on concurrent affairs with the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet Embassy official among several others.

The book is thoroughly researched and there are pages of references and footnotes tucked away discreetly at the back where they do not interfere with the absolutely crackling pace of the narrative. On occasion it’s easy to imagine that what you’re reading is a thriller; on occasion it’s easy to laugh at the pompousness and ridiculousness of some of the characters – until you stop to remind yourself that these are the insane Hitler and Himmler and Göring.

Even if you think you’ve read all there is to read on this period, this book is so fresh and engaging it will add another dimension. Unreservedly recommended.

Other products and services from The Company Of Books


River Cottage Veg Every Day

When I think of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I always picture him out in the wilds catching and dispatching some harmless creature one would never imagine eating unless in the most extreme cases of need. I opened it idly at first, but then found myself turning the pages avidly as each recipe looked more tasty than the last. It was therefore with some scepticism that I picked up his latest River Cottage cookbook.


Introducing Our Pop-Up Book Club

A new novel by award-winning Funder, based on real events and set in 1930s Berlin, in which a group of friends dedicated to resisting Hitler’s rise become hunted outlaws forced to flee the country, but continuing their resistance work despite the danger of betrayal, even from afar.


November Meeting

Surrounded by artists in bustling cafés, Marie is swept away into a vivid and colourful world of mistresses and fourth wives, painted fishermen and cramped Parisian studios, ultimately leading her to the acclaimed painter Soren Kroyer. Late in the nineteenth century, a beautiful young art student from Copenhagen arrives in Paris, breathless with excitement and longing to become a painter.


Barnes Wins Man Booker 2011

This was the fourth time Barnes was shortlisted for the prize; the first time was in 1984 for Flaubert’s Parrot, the second time in 1998 for England, England, and the third time in 2005 for Arthur & George. Chair of Judges, Stella Rimington said it is a book that deserves to be read two or three times, as it is so crammed with information that you don’t necessarily take it all in on a first reading.


October Meeting

Mark Casey has left home, the rural Irish community where his family has farmed the same land for generations, to study for a doctorate in Dublin, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility. His is a life without focus or responsibility, until he meets Joanne Lynch, a trainee solicitor whom he finds irresistible. For our book club meeting on Wed October 19th, we read Solace by Belinda McKeon.