Top critical review
Disappointing and poorly written
Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2015
In the Garden of Beasts has a promising premise. However, I was very disappointed with the author's execution. Despite a lengthy bibliography, the author seemed to rely primarily on two sources for most of the book. Those being the files of Ambassador Dodd, and the files of his daughter, Martha Dodd. Other than passing quotations or references here and there, there is little reliance on other sources, including the other Dodd family members, or their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
Of course, the premise of this book is how this particular family saw the events unfold as Hitler rose to power. There is little indication how Dodd's wife and son viewed life in Germany. And, while Martha's persona was well developed, the author left the impression that she was nothing more than a whore, with no loyalty to her country, her husband, or her many, many lovers. Her story and her view of events during this time were very well developed, but not really what I was expecting to read about. As for Ambassador Dodd himself, I never felt that I had a good grasp of the man.
Another drawback of this book is it is limited to a very short period of time. You should go into this book realizing it only talks about the family's first year in Germany, from 1933-1934. At this time, Hitler had just come into power and the real horrors of Nazi rule had not begun. I was hoping the book would discuss more of Hitler's rule after this time. The book's first 52 chapters discuss the first year, up to the Night of the Long Knives. The book then skips ahead 3-4 years, while Dodd was still in Germany, and pretty much just say Dodd felt like a helpless onlooker. Why so much focus on that first year, and no observations at all about the next 3-4 years? I would think the next 3-4 years would be just as important, if not more so, as they show how Hitler grew stronger and stronger, and the population around more complacent.
Another disappointing thing about this book is the author's non-stop use of foreshadowing. A book about the rise of Hitler kind of implies some foreshadowing. We all know some nasty stuff is about to happen. But the author still insists to use foreshadowing not only at the end of nearly every chapter, but many times within the (short) chapters. Constant foreshadowing. After a short while, it really loses its affect and just becomes an annoyance, and a sign of poor writing.
The highlights of the book are that it reads fairly quickly. It would probably appeal to many ages and, for the one year time period it is mostly limited to, does a decent job chronicling Martha Dodd's whorish behavior, and Ambassador Dodd's aloofness. However, I expected much more from the premise and this author. I was excited to read "Dead Wake" after this, but do not think I will purchase it after reading this work.