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    Original Essays | July 14, 2015

    Joshua Mohr: IMG Your Imagination, Your Fingerprint



    When I was in grad school, a teacher told our workshop that if a published novel is 300 pages, the writer had to generate 1,200 along the way. I... Continue »
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      All This Life

      Joshua Mohr 9781593766030

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2 Hawthorne World History- Germany Nazi

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

by

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

ISBN13: 9780307408853
ISBN10: 030740885x
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Means of Escape

The telephone call that forever changed the lives of the Dodd family of Chicago came at noon on Thursday, June 8, 1933, as William E. Dodd sat at his desk at the University of Chicago.

Now chairman of the history department, Dodd had been a professor at the university since 1909, recognized nationally for his work on the American South and for a biography of Woodrow Wilson. He was sixty-four years old, trim, five feet eight inches tall, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair. Though his face at rest tended to impart severity, he in fact had a sense of humor that was lively, dry, and easily ignited. He had a wife, Martha, known universally as Mattie, and two children, both in their twenties. His daughter, also named Martha, was twenty-four years old; his son, William Jr.--Bill--was twenty-eight.

By all counts they were a happy family and a close one. Not rich by any means, but well off, despite the economic depression then gripping the nation. They lived in a large house at 5757 Blackstone Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, a few blocks from the university. Dodd also owned--and every summer tended--a small farm in Round Hill, Virginia, which, according to a county survey, had 386.6 acres, “more or less,” and was where Dodd, a Jeffersonian democrat of the first stripe, felt most at home, moving among his twenty-one Guernsey heifers; his four geldings, Bill, Coley, Mandy, and Prince; his Farmall tractor; and his horse-drawn Syracuse plows. He made coffee in a Maxwell House can atop his old wood-burning stove. His wife was not as fond of the place and was more than happy to let him spend time there by himself while the rest of the family remained behind in Chicago. Dodd named the farm Stoneleigh, because of all the rocks strewn across its expanse, and spoke of it the way other men spoke of first loves. “The fruit is so beautiful, almost flawless, red and luscious, as we look at it, the trees still bending under the weight of their burden,” he wrote one fine night during the apple harvest. “It all appeals to me.”

Though generally not given to cliche, Dodd described the telephone call as a “sudden surprise out of a clear sky.” This was, however, something of an exaggeration. Over the preceding several months there had been talk among his friends that one day a call like this might come. It was the precise nature of the call that startled Dodd, and troubled him.

For some time now, Dodd had been unhappy in his position at the university. Though he loved teaching history, he loved writing it more, and for years he had been working on what he expected would be the definitive recounting of early southern history, a four-volume series that he called The Rise and Fall of the Old South, but time and again he had found his progress stymied by the routine demands of his job. Only the first volume was near completion, and he was of an age when he feared he would be buried alongside the unfinished remainder. He had negotiated a reduced schedule with his department, but as is so often the case with such artificial ententes, it did not work in the manner he had hoped. Staff departures and financial pressures within the university associated with the Depression had left him working just as hard as ever, dealing with university officials, preparing lectures, and confronting the engulfing needs of graduate students. In a letter to the university’s Department of Buildings and Grounds dated October 31, 1932, he pleaded for heat in his office on Sundays so he could have at least one day to devote to uninterrupted writing. To a friend he described his position as “embarrassing.”

Adding to his dissatisfaction was his belief that he should have been farther along in his career than he was. What had kept him from advancing at a faster clip, he complained to his wife, was the fact that he had not grown up in a life of privilege and instead had been compelled to work hard for all that he achieved, unlike others in his field who had advanced more quickly. And indeed, he had reached his position in life the hard way. Born on October 21, 1869, at his parents’ home in the tiny hamlet of Clayton, North Carolina, Dodd entered the bottom stratum of white southern society, which still adhered to the class conventions of the antebellum era. His father, John D. Dodd, was a barely literate subsistence farmer; his mother, Evelyn Creech, was descended from a more exalted strain of North Carolina stock and deemed to have married down. The couple raised cotton on land given to them by Evelyn’s father and barely made a living. In the years after the Civil War, as cotton production soared and prices sank, the family fell steadily into debt to the town’s general store, owned by a relative of Evelyn’s who was one of Clayton’s three men of privilege--“hard men,” Dodd called them: “. . . traders and aristocratic masters of their dependents!”

Dodd was one of seven children and spent his youth working the family’s land. Although he saw the work as honorable, he did not wish to spend the rest of his life farming and recognized that the only way a man of his lowly background could avoid this fate was by gaining an education. He fought his way upward, at times focusing so closely on his studies that other students dubbed him “Monk Dodd.” In February 1891 he entered Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Virginia Tech). There too he was a sober, focused presence. Other students indulged in such pranks as painting the college president’s cow and staging fake duels so as to convince freshmen that they had killed their adversaries. Dodd only studied. He got his bachelor’s degree in 1895 and his master’s in 1897, when he was twenty-six years old.

At the encouragement of a revered faculty member, and with a loan from a kindly great-uncle, Dodd in June 1897 set off for Germany and the University of Leipzig to begin studies toward a doctorate. He brought his bicycle. He chose to focus his dissertation on Thomas Jefferson, despite the obvious difficulty of acquiring eighteenth-century American documents in Germany. Dodd did his necessary classwork and found archives of relevant materials in London and Berlin. He also did a lot of traveling, often on his bicycle, and time after time was struck by the atmosphere of militarism that pervaded Germany. At one point one of his favorite professors led a discussion on the question “How helpless would the United States be if invaded by a great German army?” All this Prussian bellicosity made Dodd uneasy. He wrote, “There was too much war spirit everywhere.”

Dodd returned to North Carolina in late autumn 1899 and after months of search at last got an instructor’s position at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. He also renewed a friendship with a young woman named Martha Johns, the daughter of a well-off landowner who lived near Dodd’s hometown. The friendship blossomed into romance and on Christmas Eve 1901, they married.

At Randolph-Macon, Dodd promptly got himself into hot water. In 1902 he published an article in the Nation in which he attacked a successful campaign by the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans to have Virginia ban a history textbook that the veterans deemed an affront to southern honor. Dodd charged that the veterans believed the only valid histories were those that held that the South “was altogether right in seceding from the Union.”

The backlash was immediate. An attorney prominent in the veterans’ movement launched a drive to have Dodd fired from Randolph-Macon. The school gave Dodd its full support. A year later he attacked the veterans again, this time in a speech before the American Historical Society in which he decried their efforts to “put out of the schools any and all books which do not come up to their standard of local patriotism.” He railed that “to remain silent is out of the question for a strong and honest man.”

Dodd’s stature as a historian grew, and so too did his family. His son was born in 1905, his daughter in 1908. Recognizing that an increase in salary would come in handy and that pressure from his southern foes was unlikely to abate, Dodd put his name in the running for an opening at the University of Chicago. He got the job, and in the frigid January of 1909, when he was thirty-nine years old, he and his family made their way to Chicago, where he would remain for the next quarter century. In October 1912, feeling the pull of his heritage and a need to establish his own credibility as a true Jeffersonian democrat, he bought his farm. The grueling work that had so worn on him during his boyhood now became for him both a soul-saving diversion and a romantic harking back to America’s past.

Dodd also discovered in himself an abiding interest in the political life, triggered in earnest when in August 1916 he found himself in the Oval Office of the White House for a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson. The encounter, according to one biographer, “profoundly altered his life.”

Dodd had grown deeply uneasy about signs that America was sliding toward intervention in the Great War then being fought in Europe. His experience in Leipzig had left him no doubt that Germany alone was responsible for starting the war, in satisfaction of the yearnings of Germany’s industrialists and aristocrats, the Junkers, whom he likened to the southern aristocracy before the Civil War. Now he saw the emergence of a similar hubris on the part of America’s own industrial and military elites. When an army general tried to include the University of Chicago in a national campaign to ready the nation for war, Dodd bridled and took his complaint directly to the commander in chief.

Dodd wanted only ten minutes of Wilson’s time but got far more and found himself as thoroughly charmed as if he’d been the recipient of a potion in a fairy tale. He came to believe that Wilson was correct in advocating U.S. intervention in the war. For Dodd, Wilson became the modern embodiment of Jefferson. Over the next seven years, he and Wilson became friends; Dodd wrote Wilson’s biography. Upon Wilson’s death on February 3, 1924, Dodd fell into deep mourning.

At length he came to see Franklin Roosevelt as Wilson’s equal and threw himself behind Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign, speaking and writing on his behalf whenever an opportunity arose. If he had hopes of becoming a member of Roosevelt’s inner circle, however, Dodd soon found himself disappointed, consigned to the increasingly dissatisfying duties of an academic chair.

Now he was sixty-four years old, and the way he would leave his mark on the world would be with his history of the old South, which also happened to be the one thing that every force in the universe seemed aligned to defeat, including the university’s policy of not heating buildings on Sundays.

More and more he considered leaving the university for some position that would allow him time to write, “before it is too late.” The idea occurred to him that an ideal job might be an undemanding post within the State Department, perhaps as an ambassador in Brussels or The Hague. He believed that he was sufficiently prominent to be considered for such a position, though he tended to see himself as far more influential in national affairs than in fact he was. He had written often to advise Roosevelt on economic and political matters, both before and immediately after Roosevelt’s victory. It surely galled Dodd that soon after the election he received from the White House a form letter stating that while the president wanted every letter to his office answered promptly, he could not himself reply to all of them in a timely manner and thus had asked his secretary to do so in his stead.

Dodd did, however, have several good friends who were close to Roosevelt, including the new secretary of commerce, Daniel Roper. Dodd’s son and daughter were to Roper like nephew and niece, sufficiently close that Dodd had no compunction about dispatching his son as intermediary to ask Roper whether the new administration might see fit to appoint Dodd as minister to Belgium or the Netherlands. “These are posts where the government must have somebody, yet the work is not heavy,” Dodd told his son. He confided that he was motivated mainly by his need to complete his Old South. “I am not desirous of any appointment from Roosevelt but I am very anxious not to be defeated in a life-long purpose.”

In short, Dodd wanted a sinecure, a job that was not too demanding yet that would provide stature and a living wage and, most important, leave him plenty of time to write--this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited. “As to high diplomacy (London, Paris, Berlin) I am not the kind,” he wrote to his wife early in 1933. “I am distressed that this is so on your account. I simply am not the sly, two-faced type so necessary to ‘lie abroad for the country.’ If I were, I might go to Berlin and bend the knee to Hitler--and relearn German.” But, he added, “why waste time writing about such a subject? Who would care to live in Berlin the next four years?”

Whether because of his son’s conversation with Roper or the play of other forces, Dodd’s name soon was in the wind. On March 15, 1933, during a sojourn at his Virginia farm, he went to Washington to meet with Roosevelt’s new secretary of state, Cordell Hull, whom he had met on a number of previous occasions. Hull was tall and silver haired, with a cleft chin and strong jaw. Outwardly, he seemed the physical embodiment of all that a secretary of state should be, but those who knew him better understood that when angered he had a most unstatesmanlike penchant for releasing torrents of profanity and that he suffered a speech impediment that turned his r’s to w’s in the manner of the cartoon character Elmer Fudd--a trait that Roosevelt now and then made fun of privately, as when he once spoke of Hull’s “twade tweaties.” Hull, as usual, had four or five red pencils in his shirt pocket, his favored tools of state. He raised the possibility of Dodd receiving an appointment to Holland or Belgium, exactly what Dodd had hoped for. But now, suddenly forced to imagine the day-to-day reality of what such a life would entail, Dodd balked. “After considerable study of the situation,” he wrote in his little pocket diary, “I told Hull I could not take such a position.”

But his name remained in circulation.

And now, on that Thursday in June, his telephone began to ring. As he held the receiver to his ear, he heard a voice he recognized immediately.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Average customer rating based on 9 comments:

Sheila Deeth, April 18, 2013 (view all comments by Sheila Deeth)


Subtitled “Love, Terror, and an America Family in Hitler’s Berlin,” the love and terror in Erik Larson’s The Garden of Beasts is carefully muted and well-hidden, clinically observed through a historian’s eyes and the writings of the various characters. It’s fascinating to look at Hitler’s Germany from a different point of view as World War II approaches. But the reader is kept safely at arm’s length, as if watching a silent movie with solemn voice-over. The result is a powerful mix of the well-known and predictable with those small surprises and insights of individual lives.

The US Ambassador Dodd is torn between a historian’s recognition of truths that must be slowly told and a politician’s need for instant words and instant responses. Seen as alternately weak and strong, he walks a fine line and annoys almost everyone, eventually destroying his career on a raft of good intentions. Meanwhile his daughter makes decisions based on feelings, while her emotions seem to rely on the whim of the moment. We know she’s in love because she hangs out with the same guy too much and her diary says she likes him. We know she’s not in love because she’s going out with someone else. Almost a distraction at the start of the book, her shifting relationships eventually reflect the shifting tides of public opinion, leaving her always a few steps to the side where it’s never quite safe.

The “Jewish problem” is told unflinchingly, with honest recognition of glass houses on both sides of the pond. There’s a quiet recognition of how quickly society's acceptably wrong attitudes become vicious cruelty. Tolerance and good intentions blind many to what’s really going on. Fanaticism becomes something to be aspired to. Wrong becomes right if the purpose seems good. And surely no true leader should be swayed by the opinions of the rest of the world, or so they'd have us believe.

The tragedy is well-known as familiar players take the stage. But the underlying fall of normalcy is what Erik Larson’s book makes so clear. The reader doesn’t enter into anybody’s lives, anymore than Dodd and his family entered into the lives of the German people when they traveled there. But we observe and we draw our own conclusions, hopefully ones that might help us see more clearly in the world of today. Genuinely, but not emotionally involving, The Garden of Beasts sheds light on the past and invites reflection on the present with clear historical research and quiet sympathy for Dodd, trapped on the border where beasts roamed free.



Disclosure: We’re reading this for our book group.
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Victoria R Copelton, January 19, 2013 (view all comments by Victoria R Copelton)
the reality of life. During Hitler's Berlin is vividly portrayed. ambassadors have to be careful even though this one takes chances in a time when no one escapes the scrutiny of the complex system of Berlin spies in wwII. Reading this book brought me into that time period with the safety of a spectator. Because It is clear that I would be scared to death to actually be there in person. There were many brave souls who show up in this book...prepared to be caught by a paranoid regime and their courage is striking
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mikeczyz, January 16, 2013 (view all comments by mikeczyz)
I just started and finished this book. A very interesting account of pre-WW2 Berlin as told through the eyes of the US ambassador to Germany and his daughter. I thought it was going to be dry and a bit of a chore to plow through, but was pleasantly surprised. There were very few ZZZZZ moments and it really did a lot to help explain to me how the monster known as Hitler came to power. Highly recommended.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307408853
Author:
Larson, Erik
Publisher:
Broadway Books
Subject:
Holocaust
Subject:
Crime - True Crime
Subject:
World History-Germany
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20120531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
480
Dimensions:
7.9 x 5.1 x 1.2 in 0.84 lb

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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin Used Trade Paper
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Product details 480 pages Broadway Books - English 9780307408853 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds' intimate witness to Hitler's ascendancy and created an edifying narrative of this historical byway that has all the pleasures of a political thriller...a fresh picture of these terrrible events."
"Review" by , "By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history....Powerful, poignant...a transportingly true story."
"Review" by , "Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well."
"Review" by , "Highly compelling....Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamor and horror...a welcome new chapter in the vast canon of World War II."
"Review" by , "A stunning work of history."
"Review" by , "A gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page."
"Review" by , "Electrifying reading...fascinating."
"Review" by , "Larson's latest chronicle of history has as much excitement as a thriller novel, and it's all the more thrilling because it's all true."
"Review" by , "A superb book...nothing less than masterful."
"Review" by , "Even though we know how it will end — the book's climax, the Night of the Long Knives, being just the beginning, this is a page-turner, full of flesh and blood people and monsters too, whose charms are particularly disturbing."
"Review" by , "Larson succeeds brilliantly...offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war."
"Review" by , "Erik Larson tackles this outstanding period of history as fully and compellingly as he portrayed the events in his bestseller, The Devil In The White City. With each page, more horrors are revealed, making it impossible to put down. In the Garden of Beasts reads like the true thriller it is."
"Review" by , "Larson's strengths as a storyteller have never been stronger than they are here, and this story is far more important than either The Devil in the White City or Thunderstruck. How the United States dithered as Hitler rose to power is a cautionary tale that bears repeating, and Larson has told it masterfully."
"Review" by , "Reads like an elegant thriller...utterly compelling...marvelous stuff. An excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller, and probably will be."
"Review" by , "Larson's scholarship is impressive, but it's his pacing and knack for suspense that elevates the book from the matter-of-fact to the sublime."
"Review" by , "A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction."
"Review" by , "Larson has done it again, expertly weaving together a fresh new narrative from ominous days of the 20th century."
"Review" by , "[L]ike slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended....It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy."
"Review" by , "Dazzling....Reads like a suspense novel, replete with colorful characters, both familiar and those previously relegated to the shadows. Like Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories or Victor Klemperer's Diaries, In the Garden of Beasts is an on-the-ground documentary of a society going mad in slow motion."
"Review" by , "[G]ripping, a nightmare narrative of a terrible time. It raises again the question never fully answered about the Nazi era — what evil humans are capable of, and what means are necessary to cage the beast."
"Review" by , "In this mesmerizing portrait of the Nazi capital, Larson plumbs a far more diabolical urban cauldron than in his bestselling The Devil in the White City...a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders, including murderous Nazi factional infighting, through the accretion of small crimes and petty thuggery."
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