If In the Garden of Beasts
was good for nothing else, it showed me that my grasp on basic history is AWFUL. I knew my education was lacking in that area, but I had no idea how little I knew, even about something like World War II, which was a pretty major event, I SUPPOSE.
Larson uses this book to tell the stories of Ambassador William Dodd, a sort of odd-duck professor-turned-diplomat who managed to land a post in Germany in 1933, and his adult daughter, Martha, who accompanied him. Ambassador Dodd's wife and adult son were there, too, but they're on the sidelines for most of In the Garden of Beasts
, presumably because they didn't leave detailed accounts of their time in Germany behind the way William and Martha did.
More than the story of a family, though, it's the story of Hitler's rise to power. I highlighted SO MANY passages, just because I was learning so much, and it was all fascinating (although a lot of it was horrifying). Many of the key players in Nazi Germany are fleshed out in this book, where they were just names on a page for me before. It's interesting, but horrible, watching everything fall into place, knowing how it ends.
That said, I think students of World War II might find In the Garden of Beasts
boring, unless they manage to connect with the ambassador or his flighty daughter. I loved it. The story of Ambassador Dodd hooked me and made the actual history bits easier to understand as a timeline. I also really enjoy Larson's non-fic style, so this book had that going for it, too.
I do wish the end hadn't felt so rushed: the first year of Dodd's ambassadorship goes by at a snail's pace -- not in a bad way, just a detailed way -- and then everything kind of picks up speed until the end of the book. I guess there's only so much space in one book, though; I am glad the story didn't just drop off after Dodd returned home.
Not really related: I can find photos of almost everyone involved in the Dodds' story (and I think it's the mark of a good non-fic that I'm still googling semi-relevant stuff afterward) but I cannot find any photos of Boris Vinogradov, not even if I google "Winogradov" instead. Oh, Boris.