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  • Sea Salt Dreams

    December 17, 2016

    The times being what they are, I recently decided that it might be prudent to diversify from writing books into some other kind of industry. I quickly hit on the ideal thing: Sea salt. Since “disrupting” markets is apparently the thing these days, as opposed to the old fashioned concept of merely building better products than […]

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In the Garden of Beasts

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin


By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story.” —The New York Times

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 terrible events.” —The New York Times Book Review

Reads like an elegant thriller…utterly compelling… marvelous stuff. An excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller, and probably will be.” —The Washington Post
”Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well.”—Financial Times

”Larson has done it again, expertly weaving together a fresh new narrative from ominous days of the 20th century.” —Associated Press

Not to be missed.” —The Washington Times

Terrific.” —Los Angeles Times

A stunning work of history.” —Newsweek

A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction.” —People (3 1/2 stars)

Highly compelling…Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamour and horror…a welcome new chapter in the vast canon of World War II.” —Christian Science Monitor 

””Mesmerizing…cinematic, improbable yet true.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

”Powerful.” —Vanity Fair

“Dazzling….Reads like a suspense novel, replete with colorful characters, both familiar and those previously relegated to the shadows.”—The Chicago Sun-Times

“[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.” —The Seattle Times

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 . . . . ”
Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

Excellent….suspenseful, [has] the feel of a John le Carré novel.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status.”
Booklist (starred, boxed review)

Chillingly portrays the terror and oppression that slowly settle over Germany in 1933.”
Library Journal

Oh shut up dad!”
—Erik’s daughters

With this new book, I invite you to journey to Berlin during Hitler’s first year in power, 1933, in the company of a real-life father and daughter from Chicago who suddenly found themselves transported to the heart of the city. They had no conception of the harrowing days that lay ahead. At the time, nothing was certain—Hitler did not yet possess absolute power, and few outsiders expected his government to survive. The family encountered a city suffused with energy and optimism, with some of the most striking, avant-garde buildings in the world. Its theaters, concert halls, and cafés were jammed; the streets teemed with well-dressed attractive people. But my two protagonists were about to begin an education that would change them forever, with ultimately tragic consequences.

Round, circular logo for Chautauqua Institution

Selected for the summer 2011 Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle

The father was William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered professor who, much to his surprise and everyone else’s, was picked by President Roosevelt to be America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany. His daughter, Martha, was 24 years old, and chose to come along for the adventure, and to escape a dead marriage to a New York banker. They and the rest of their family settled in a grand old house on the city’s central park, the Tiergarten—in literal translation, the Garden of Beasts.

Dodd expected to encounter the same warm citizenry he had known three decades earlier while a graduate student in Leipzig; he hoped to use reason and quiet persuasion to temper Hitler’s government. Martha found the “New Germany” utterly enthralling, totally unlike the horrific realm depicted in newspapers back home. For her, as for many other foreign visitors at the time, the transformation of Germany was thrilling and not at all frightening. Not yet.

As that first year unfolded they experienced days full of energy, intrigue, and romance—and, ultimately, terror, on a scale they could never have imagined. Their experience tells volumes about why the world took so long to recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler.

Here are some of the people you’ll meet in the Garden of Beasts:

Rudolf Diels, the young, handsome first chief of the newly established Gestapo, who proved to be a man of surprising integrity—and became one of Martha’s lovers.

Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, the gigantic, buoyant Harvard grad who played piano for Hitler and who believed Martha might be just the woman to tame the Führer’s soul.

Hermann Göring, whose immense size and passion for flamboyant uniforms made him the brunt of private mockery, yet whose lethal nature would soon be shockingly revealed.

U.S. Under Secretary of State William Phillips, who hated Jews and led a cadre of like-minded State Department officials in a quiet campaign to unseat Dodd from his post.

George Messersmith, the “peppery” American consul general who stood up to the Nazis at every turn—and wanted Dodd’s job.

Franz von Papen, the handsome, boot-licking vice chancellor whose staff maneuvered him into making a dramatic anti-Hitler speech—and thereby set off a horrific cataclysm of terror and murder.

As the Dodds’ first year progresses, you’ll accompany them to parties and banquets, visit Göring’s bizarre country estate, and take drives through the German countryside to evade Nazi surveillance. You’ll feel the fear and tension rise in Berlin as Hitler gains power and confronts a potential rebellion, until the Dodds find machine guns outside their home and Berlin awash with blood and terror. . . . Welcome to the Garden of Beasts.