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

Published: 2011
Paperback : 448 pages
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Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City, delivers a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be ...
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Introduction

Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City, delivers a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

Editorial Review

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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. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Das Vorspiel: Prologue
1. Erik Larson used a variety of primary sources (especially letters, diaries, and other personal papers) when researching his book. How do you think the inclusion of these sources will impact the narrative focus of the book?
2. Based on this chapter and Larson’s sources, how do you think this book will be different from other books that have been written about Nazi Germany?

The Man Behind the Curtain
1. What conclusion did Messersmith reach about the type of person that was needed to fill the vacant ambassador position?
2. What detail about the new ambassador suggested that he would not fit Messersmith’s ideal?

Part One – Into the Wood
Chapter One
1. As a historian, what was Dodd’s main area of expertise? Why did his research anger the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans? What does his response to the controversy suggest about his moral character?
2. What did Dodd believe about Germany’s role in World War I (The Great War)? Did he support American intervention in the war?

Chapter Two
3. Why do you think Roosevelt had difficulty filling the vacant ambassador position in Berlin?
4. In what ways was Dodd a “less than ideal” candidate for ambassador to Germany? Despite these issues, why was he still offered the position?
5. In 1933, what did the majority of Americans believe about Hitler’s government?
6. Why did Dodd accept the position as ambassador? What did he hope to accomplish while in Germany? What was his reason for inviting his two adult children to accompany him?

Chapter Three
7. What reason did Martha give for the failure of her first marriage? What other factors do you think contributed to her divorce?
8. Why did Martha go to Berlin?

Chapter Four
9. What was Roosevelt’s primary concern about the German government?
10. Why were Jewish leaders frustrated with President Roosevelt? Explain the two sides of the debate within the Jewish community about how America should have proceeded in its relationship with Nazi Germany.
11. How did the majority of Americans feel about immigration? Explain the “LPC clause” in the Immigration Act of 1912. How was this clause used to discriminate against Jewish visa applicants? What other immigration policies made it difficult for Jewish Germans to obtain visas?
12. What did Dodd believe to be an appropriate lifestyle for a diplomat? How did his view contrast with Ambassador Wilson’s description of his fellow diplomats and their “pretty good club.”
13. What did Dodd learn about the extent of Germany’s financial obligation to the United States? Who did Dodd believe was primarily responsible for the burden of the debt?
14. How pervasive was anti-Semitic sentiment within the Roosevelt administration? What challenge could this present for an American ambassador to Germany?
15. At this point, do you believe Dodd was the “right man” for the job of ambassador to Germany? Why or why not?

Chapter Five
16. Martha described herself as being “slightly anti-Semitic.” Did her views reflect the views of the majority of Americans prior to World War II?
17. What career did Martha intend to pursue? What advice did Sandburg and Wilder give her before she left for Berlin?
18. Why was Dodd unhappy with the arrangements Messersmith had made for them at the Esplanade hotel?
19. What was the Tiergarten?
20. Summarize Martha’s initial response to Germany. How was it different than what she had expected based on the news reports she read in America?

Part Two – House Hunting in the Third Reich
Chapter Six
1. What did Sigrid Schultz and Martha Dodd disagree about? Why do you think Martha was so hesitant to believe Schultz?
2. Explain the significance of the “Aryan clause.” Why weren’t the restrictions caused by this clause evident to casual observers?
3. Why did Bassett visit Berlin? What was the outcome of his visit?

Chapter Seven
4. In what ways did Gordon believe that Dodd had violated embassy custom? What does this list of offenses tell you about the disparity between Dodd and Gordon’s values and priorities?
5. Why was Dodd unable to be officially recognized as ambassador until the end of the summer?
6. What was the purpose of the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases? Based on this early legislation, what can you infer about the values of the Hitler regime?
7. Why was Dodd unhappy with the officers and other employees of the embassy?
8. Summarize the conflicts that existed within Hitler’s government.
9. Why did Dodd’s interactions with Neurath give him hope for the Nazi party?
10. Why were Philip Zuckerman and his wife attacked? What was the tragic outcome of the beatings? Why did Messersmith believe that nothing could be done officially on Mrs. Zuckerman’s behalf?
11. Consider Messersmith’s choice of words in his dispatch on the Zuckerman case: “It has been a favorite pastime of the SA men to attack the Jews and one cannot avoid the plain language of stating that they do not like to be deprived of their prey.” What are the connotations of the words that he used to describe the Nazis? What does this suggest about the way the SA operated?
12. Why did most American visitors to Germany fail to grasp the realities of Hitler’s regime?

Chapter Eight
13. How did Martha meet Putzi Hanfstaengl? Why did Martha and Quentin Reynolds like him?

Chapter Nine
14. Describe some of the journalist Edgar Mowrer’s methods for acquiring information about the Nazi party.
15. Explain the circumstances that caused Mowrer to feel betrayed by Messersmith and Dodd?
16. What did the chemist Fritz Haber invent? What was the intended use of his invention? How did the Nazi’s eventually use it?
17. Why did Haber’s wife kill herself?
18. Why did Haber visit Dodd? Why was Dodd unable to assist him?
19. Compare and contrast the perspectives of Messersmith, Wise, and Dodd concerning the persecution of Jews in Germany. Why do you think the men came to such different conclusions about the degree of harm being done by Hitler’s regime?

Chapter Ten
20. Describe the circumstances that lead to the Dodds renting the three floors of the mansion at Tiergartenstrasse. Why did Panofsky want the Dodds living in his house?
21. What did the Dodd’s house become known for among the diplomatic community?
22. Explain the significance of the location of Hitler’s program to euthanize mentally and physically disabled people, which was called Aktion T-4. One might assume that a program like Aktion T-4 would be hidden from public view. What do you think Hitler’s decision to house this program in the Tiergartenstrasse says about his agenda and methodology?

Part Three – Lucifer in the Garden
Chapter Eleven
1. Why was Daniel Mulvihill attacked? How did this attack differ from previous attacks against American citizens in Germany?
2. How did the U.S. consulate respond to the Mulvihill attack? What was the result of this response?
3. Explain the juxtaposition between the mood of the crowd that Martha and Reynolds encountered in Nuremberg and the purpose of their “parade.” What does this suggest about the culture of the Nazi party?
4. After witnessing first hand one of the atrocities being perpetrated against Jews, what action did Quentin Reynolds take? Why do you think Martha was unwilling to condemn the Nazis?
5. How did Nazi leadership respond to international criticism over the Anna Rath incident?
6. Why was Dodd hesitant to attend the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg? What did he hope that a silent protest of the rally by the ambassadors of Spain, France, Britain, and the United States would accomplish?
7. Why were Phillips and Moffat unhappy with Dodd’s decision to decline the Nazi’s invitation to attend the rally?
8. Do you think Dodd’s decision regarding the Nuremberg rally was appropriate given the circumstances? Should he have been more explicit in the way he expressed his disapproval? What might have been the consequences of a stronger rejection of the Nazi’s invitation?

Chapter Twelve
9. Describe the circumstances of the Kaltenborn attack. What did Messersmith find ironic about the situation?
10. Why did Dodd and Messersmith disagree about asking the State Department to issue a warning against travel in Germany? At the time, which side would you have agreed with?
11. How did Martha Dodd’s opinion of the Nazi party differ from her father’s?
12. Explain the allusion and significance of Mower’s final comment to Messersmith: “And
you too, Brutus.”
13. Why do you think Larson included the inventory list for the United States embassy’s cupboard? What does this inventory suggest about the role and responsibility of an ambassador?

Chapter Thirteen
14. What did Martha consider to be her “dark secret?” How did she use it to her advantage?
15. What effect did Martha have on men? Why do you think she had this effect?
16. What criticism did Messersmith make to the State Department regarding Martha Dodd?
17. Explain the allusion and significance of Rudolf Diels’s nickname: “The Prince of Darkness.”
18. What techniques did the Gestapo use to create a climate of “violence and terror” in Germany? Why did Diels think that such a climate was necessary?

Chapter Fourteen
19. What was the significance of the song that Boris played for Martha on their first date? 20. Martha found Boris’s “interrogation” of her during their first date a little odd. What did she attribute his behavior to? Can you think of any ulterior motivation that could also explain his actions?
21. Why did Martha feel the need to be discreet about her burgeoning relationship with Boris?

Chapter Fifteen
22. What was the primary concern that Dodd raised during his meeting with Neurath? How did Neurath respond?
23. What did Dodd and Neurath consider to be the “Jewish problem”? What does their conversation reveal about the prejudices within the governments of both the United States and Germany?
24. What threat did Dodd make before leaving Neurath’s office? How did Neurath respond?
25. What actions by the German government suggest that Neurath was insincere in his comments to Dodd?

Chapter Sixteen
26. What did Panofsky eventually do to the fourth story of the house the Dodds rented from him? How did Dodd feel about this change to the terms of their rental agreement?
27. What did Klemperer notice about Hitler’s use of language?
28. What was the purpose of the Editorial Law?
29. Faced with evidence of escalating persecution of Jewish German citizens and the growing power of the Nazi party, Messersmith suggested that one possible solution to the crisis would be “forcible intervention from the outside.” What do you think the results of such an action would have been?
30. The State Department did not agree with Messersmith’s assessment of the situation. What was their primary concern regarding the relationship between America and Germany?

Chapter Seventeen
31. Based on the conflict between Diels and Packebusch, what conclusions can you draw about tensions within the leadership of the Nazi party?

Chapter Eighteen
32. In Dodd’s speech, “Economic Nationalism” he used the rhetorical appeal of historical analogy in an attempt to persuade the Nazi officials to adopt a more moderate political stance. Summarize the historical analogies that Dodd used in his speech.
33. Analyze the response to Dodd’s speech. How did those present at the meeting receive it? How was it received elsewhere?
34. What startling news did Dodd receive regarding Hitler’s actions? What did Dodd believe these actions signaled?
35. At this point in Hitler’s rise to power no military action was taken to halt his ascension.
What would have been the most likely outcome of preemptive military action?

Chapter Nineteen
36. Why did Hanfstaengl call Martha Dodd?
37. Make a prediction based on what you know about Martha: How do you think she will respond to Hanfstaengl’s proposition? Why do you think she will respond this way?

Part Four – How the Skeleton Aches
Chapter Twenty
1. Paraphrase Dodd’s first impression of Hitler. What subjects did the two men discuss? What was Hitler’s justification for withdrawing from the League of Nations?
2. Why did Martha agree to meet Hitler?
3. Compare Dodd and Martha’s responses to their encounters with Hitler. What conclusion did they both draw about the threat Hitler posed to the rest of the world? Why do you think they came to this conclusion?
4. What was the purpose of the letter Messersmith sent to Undersecretary Philips?

Chapter Twenty-One
5. Explain how the proposed changes to German law revealed an increased emphasis on racial purity.
6. What complaints did Dodd have about the way the American embassy operated? What do his complaints reveal about his own prejudices?
7. Describe the relationship between Messersmith and Dodd. Why was Dodd increasingly uneasy about Messersmith?

Chapter Twenty-Two
8. Summarize the positions of the prosecution and defense in the Reichstag arson trial.
9. One of the characteristics of a dictatorship is that the dictator operates outside the bounds of law. Explain how Göring’s testimony in the Reichstag trial demonstrates that he has no regard for the rule of law.
10. Why was Martha able to attend the trial? What effect did witnessing the testimony have on her?

Chapter Twenty-Three
11. What did the conversation between Martha and Boris reveal about Martha’s shifting sympathy towards communism?

Chapter Twenty-Four
12. Analyze the tactics (e.g., propaganda techniques, intimidation) that the Nazi party used to ensure an overwhelming victory in the public referendum on Hitler’s decision to withdraw from the League of Nations and seek equality of armaments.
13. What significant decision did President Roosevelt make regarding the Soviet Union?

Chapter Twenty-Five
14. What secret did Boris confess to Martha? How did she respond?
15. Summarize the obstacles that Boris and Martha faced if they continued to be romantically involved. What is your opinion of their relationship? Do you think their feelings for one another were sincere?

Chapter Twenty-Six
16. Explain how the name “The Ministry of Public Enlightenment” is an example of doublespeak.
17. Explain Vice-Chancellor Papen’s role in Hitler’s rise to power.
18. What did Papen and Dodd disagree about? How did this disagreement change the relationship between the two men?
19. Why did Poulette decide not to attend the Little Press Ball?

Chapter Twenty-Seven
20. Why did the Gestapo arrest American citizen Erwin Wollstein? What role did Diels play in Wollstein’s release?
21. How did the mood of the Dodd family change during their first winter in Germany?
22. Explain the forces behind the growing campaign against Ambassador Dodd. Do you think any of their criticisms of Dodd were valid?
23. What was the outcome of the Reichstag trial?

Part Five – Disquiet
Chapter Twenty-Eight
1. What superficial changes at the beginning of 1934 gave Dodd and other foreign representatives the impression that the situation in Germany was improving?
2. Describe the changes that Eicke made to the way that concentration camps were operated. What effect did these changes have on the culture of the camps?

Chapter Twenty-Nine
3. How did Phillips and Moffat respond to Dodd’s complaints and concerns? What does their response suggest about the security of Dodd’s position as ambassador?

Chapter Thirty
4. Does anything about the elaborate date that Boris arranged for Martha strike you as strange? What do you think he hoped the date would accomplish?
5. Why do you think Martha felt a “sense of foreboding” as a result of her evening with Boris?

Chapter Thirty-One
6. Explain the effect that the fear of surveillance had on both German citizens in general and the Dodd family in particular. In your opinion, were their fears justified?

Chapter Thirty-Two
7. Describe the growing tension between Röhm and Hitler. What position had Röhm hoped to acquire? What action did Hitler take to curtail Röhm’s ambition? How did Röhm respond?

Chapter Thirty-Three
8. What does the extent of the Nazi party’s anger about the mock trial being held in New York reveal about their sensitivity to foreign public opinion?
9. In their adamant demands that the United States government shut down the mock trial, what fundamental American right did the Nazis fail to grasp?
10. Why was Dodd asked to meet with Hitler?
11. Who did Hitler blame for the Nazi propaganda being distributed in the United States? Why is his argument illogical?
12. By the end of his meeting with Hitler, what did Dodd realize about Hitler’s intention regarding the Jewish population of Germany and his protestations that he sought peace with other nations?
13. How did Secretary Hull respond to Germany’s outrage over the mock trial?
14. What reason did R. Walton Moore give for the government’s reluctance to adopt a resolution condemning the Nazis for their persecution of Jewish citizens? How do you think the United States should have responded?

Chapter Thirty-Four
15. Why was Diels increasingly afraid? How did he ask Martha to help him? How did she respond?

Chapter Thirty-Five
16. Explain how Hitler intended to use his praise of Roosevelt to elicit a response that would make it appear that Roosevelt and Hitler were ideological equals. How did Hull and Phillips avoid this rhetorical “trap?”
17. What did Dodd hope to accomplish by giving his speech criticizing the policies and practice of the Foreign Service and its “Pretty Good Club?” What effect did his speech have on Phillips and Moffat?

Chapter Thirty-Six
18. Why did Messersmith agree to help Diels?
19. What was the result of Messersmith’s intervention on Diels’s behalf?
20. Explain the secret deal that Hitler made with Blomberg.
21. How did the Gestapo change after the departure of Diels?

Chapter Thirty-Seven
22. What did the message from Soviet intelligence reveal about their intentions regarding Martha Dodd? Do you think Boris was aware of their intention prior to this message? Why or why not?

Chapter Thirty-Eight
23. Summarize the criticism leveled against Dodd in Fortune magazine. Do you agree with the position taken in the article?
24. How had the mood in Berlin changed during Dodd’s absence? What factors do you think contributed to this change in atmosphere?

Part Six – Berlin at Dusk
Chapter Thirty-Nine
1. Why did Messersmith leave his post in Germany?
2. What did Bella Fromm learn about Röhm’s position within the Nazi party?
3. What was the purpose of the dinner party hosted by Regendanz? Which two prominent men did he invite? What was the result of their dinner conversation?
4. Why did the Regendanz dinner become infamous?
5. What surprising opinions did Dieckhoff express to Dodd? How did Dodd respond?

Chapter Forty
6. What was the purpose of the Reich Literary Chamber?
7. Summarize the two ways that German writers responded to Hitler’s ascension to power.
8. Why did Mildred Harnack and Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt question Fallada’s decision to remain in Germany? What do you think Fallada should have done?
9. Describe the change that took place regarding Martha’s opinion of the Nazi party. How did she express her dissatisfaction with Nazi ideology?

Chapter Forty-One
10. What ominous sign did the Dodds notice in Bendlerstrasse? What do you think this event might foreshadow?

Chapter Forty-Two
11. Why did Göring invite the foreign ambassadors to his home? What can you infer about him based on his behavior at his “open house?”
12. Explain why you agree or disagree with British ambassador Phipps’s assessment of Göring.

Chapter Forty-Three
13. Describe the circumstances that led to Vice-Chancellor Papen giving the speech criticizing the Nazi regime. Whose idea was the speech? Why did Papen agree to read it in spite of his own misgivings?
14. How did President Hindenburg, the international community, and the German people respond to Papen’s speech? What steps did Goebbels take to prevent the distribution ofthe speech?
15. Why do you think Papen was able to avoid being punished for publicly criticizing Hitler?

Chapter Forty-Four
16. What happened to Edgar Jung as a result of his involvement in the Marburg speech?
17. Why do you think Göring warned Diels to “watch himself for the next few days?”

Chapter Forty-Five
18. What was Martha Dodd’s purpose for visiting the Soviet Union? Why might this visit have been a bad idea considering her father’s position?
19. What details does the author use to create a tense mood in this chapter? What are the various “storms” that you think are brewing both in Germany and in the U.S.?

Chapter Forty-Six
20. Summarize the various events that convinced Hitler that he needed to take immediate action to “stamp down mercilessly” the rebels he viewed as potential instigators of a second revolution.
21. As Hitler prepared and launched his putsch, what was the mood within the Dodd household?

Part Seven – When Everything Changed
Chapter Forty-Seven
1. Describe the coordinated attack Hitler, Göring and Goebbels launched against their “enemies.” Did anyone seem to suspect what happened? Who were their main targets? What do you think they hoped to achieve?
2. When did Dodd learn about the events of Saturday, June 30, 1934? What was his immediate concern?

Chapter Forty-Eight
3. Describe the mood in Berlin when Martha and Boris returned to the Tiergartenstrasse.
4. Why would it have been an ominous sign to see only SS officers and members of Göring’s police force outside of Röhm’s house?
5. Why was Dodd worried bout Papen’s safety?

Chapter Forty-Nine
6. Analyze Göring’s attitude and behavior during his press conference. What message do you think his performance was intended to convey?
7. What reason did Göring give for the mass arrests and assassinations?
8. After the purge, how far did the official Nazi tally of death differ from other estimates? Why do you think there is such a large discrepancy?
9. Larson includes details about the circumstances surrounding some of the confirmed deaths. What do these details suggest about the Nazi’s methodology?
10. How did Hanfstaengl avoid being executed?

Chapter Fifty
11. What does the fact that there was only “ordinary news” in German papers following the purge suggest about the Nazi’s control of the media and use of propaganda?
12. Why did Dodd attempt to visit Papen? Do you think Dodd’s presence made a difference in the fate of the Papen family?
13. What does the fact that Rohm was given an opportunity to kill himself during the purge suggest about Hitler’s feelings regarding Rohm and his execution?
14. What action did Defense Minister Blomberg announce after the purge? Why was this action pivotal in the consolidation of Hitler’s power?

Chapter Fifty-One
15. Explain the contrast between the concerns of Moffat and Hull and the concerns of ambassador Dodd? What reality did Moffat and Hull fail to grasp?
16. How did the events of June 30, 1934, change Martha’s perception of Nazi Germany? How did they change Dodd?
17. Do you think Dodd should have resigned at this point? Why or why not? What do you think would have happened if he had?

Chapter Fifty-Two
18. How did the actions of the French, British, and American ambassadors foreshadow their country’s future relationships with each other and with Nazi Germany?
19. In his speech, what “evidence” did Hitler give to justify the necessity of his use of his
force? Was there any evidence to support his allegations about the Regendanz dinner?
20. Who was the only American official to publicly criticize Hitler’s actions? How did the Roosevelt administration respond? Why do you think they responded this way?
21. What did Dodd hope would happen after the Röhm purge and President Hindenburg’s death? What happened instead?
22. What role did propaganda play in the German public’s perception of the events of the purge?
23. What did Dodd find ironic about the way that people treated dogs and horses in Nazi Germany?

Chapter Fifty-Three
24. Why was the NKVD interested in recruiting Martha? What role did Boris play in her “recruitment?”
25. What could the use of the code name “Juliet #2” for Martha Dodd suggest?
26. At what point do you think Boris began thinking of Martha Dodd as a potential recruit?
27. Do you think Martha would make a good spy? Why or why not?

Chapter Fifty-Four
28. List the America officials that Dodd tried to warn about Hitler’s ambitions and the potential threat posed by Nazi Germany. How did they respond?
29. What action did Dodd feel America should take?
30. What action did Dodd personally take in regards to Hitler’s Third Reich? How did Phillips and Moffat respond to Dodd’s actions?
31. What decision did Dodd make about resigning from his position as ambassador?
32. What request did Dodd make to President Roosevelt regarding his future as ambassador to Germany? Once Dodd returned to his post in Berlin, what news did he receive from Secretary Hull?
33. How did Boris and Martha’s relationship end? What did Martha fail to realize about Boris?

Chapter Fifty-Five
34. How did the tone of Dodd’s speeches about the threat posed by Hitler change after he ended his tenure as ambassador?
35. What personal tragedies did Dodd face after returning to the United States?
36. How was news of Dodd’s illness reported in the German newspaper? What does this response suggest about the Nazi’s perception of Dodd?
37. Who succeeded Dodd as ambassador to Germany? How did he differ from Dodd in the way he interacted with Hitler and other Nazi officials?
38. After his death, how did his colleagues remember Dodd? How do you think he should be remembered?

Epilogue
1. What happened to Martha Dodd after she returned to America? How did her experiences in Berlin shape the remainder of her life? Do you think she had any regrets?

writing prompts
1. Erik Larson begins his book with the following quote from Dante: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” All of us have faced situations where we were deceived by something or someone. Think critically about a time in your own life when you or someone you know was misled. In retrospect, were there warning signs? What led to the point where you “came to” and recognized the situation for what it was? Based on this experience, why do you think people sometimes allow themselves to be manipulated or deceived? How could you keep from being misled in the future?
2. In “Das Vorspiel,” Larson writes: “That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside all we know—now—to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.” How important is objectivity for a writer or teacher? Why would a book about Ambassador Dodd be particularly challenging to write? How important is objectivity for a student of history? At what points during your reading did you find it difficult to remain objective?
3. Before Dodd arrived in Germany, Consul General Messersmith hoped that the new ambassador would be “a man of forceful character capable of projecting America’s interest and power, for power was all that Hitler and his men understood.” Do you believe that Messersmith was correct in his assessment? Compare Dodd to Messersmith’s description of an ideal ambassador and debate whether or not you feel Dodd was ultimately successful in projecting American interests and ideals.
4. One of Martha’s friends compared her to Scarlett O’Hara, a woman who was adept at charming men. Indeed, Martha appears to have possessed the ability to attract the attention of many powerful and influential men. Analyze Martha as a character. Do you find her admirable in any way? In what specific ways did she defy traditional expectations about gender roles? Do you think she should be considered a feminist? Would she have considered herself a feminist? What qualities made her so alluring to the men she encountered? What do you think motivated Martha to become involved with so many men? What did she get out of the relationships?
5. In a letter to Rabbi Wise about Germany’s persecution of the Jews, Dodd wrote: “Of course you know our Government cannot intervene in such domestic matters. All one can do is present the American point of view and stress the unhappy consequences of such a policy as has been pursued.” Dodd elaborated on his position in a letter to Roosevelt: “Fundamentally, I believe a people has a right to govern itself and other peoples must exercise patience even when cruelties and injustices are done.” Do you agree with Dodd? Debate whether or not the U.S. government has the right or responsibility to intervene in the domestic policies of other nations.
6. Undersecretary Philips criticized Dodd for his disapproval of the Nazi party. According to Philips, “an Ambassador, who is a privileged guest of the country to which he is accredited, should be careful not to give public expression to anything in the nature of criticism of his adopted country, because in so doing, he loses ipso facto the confidence of those very public officials whose good-will is so important to him in the success of his mission.” Research the origin and meaning of the word diplomacy. Do you think that Dodd’s response to Hitler was appropriate for a diplomat? How should America respond to regimes that we do not support or agree with? On a personal level, have you ever been in a situation where it was difficult to remain diplomatic? What did you do? What was the result of your actions?

topics for further discussion
1. The book contains numerous description of anti-Semitic remarks made by U.S. officials. Students may be surprised to learn how widespread anti-Semitic sentiment has been in America. Research the history of anti-Semitism and other stereotypes in the United States and write a paper discussing the role that it has played in a particular U.S. foreign policy decision. You may wish to include examples of historical political cartoons in your discussion.
2. Upon Dodd’s death Roosevelt wrote, “Knowing his passion for historical truth and his rare ability to illuminate the meanings of history, his passing is a real loss to the nation.” Throughout his tenure as ambassador, Dodd used historical allegory to frame his understanding of the actions of Hitler’s regime: a perspective that eventually allowed him to correctly predict the threat that the Nazis posed to the rest of the world. Choose a current event that you feel has a historical precedent and research the similarities between the two. Use your understanding to predict a possible outcome and/or solution
for the current situation.
3. Choose one of the many historical figures listed in the glossary and research their complete biography. How did the events of World War II impact the rest of their life? What legacy are they known for?
4. Research the time that elapsed between Dodd’s departure from Berlin and America’s decision to enter Word War II. At what point did France, England, Italy, and Spain enter the war? Why did America refrain from engaging in the conflict for so long? How did public opinion about American involvement in the war change over time? What caused America to enter the war?
5. Dodd considered himself a “Jeffersonian Democrat.” Research the history of Jeffersonian democracy. What are the core beliefs of this political philosophy? Do you believe it is relevant in today’s political discourse? Which current or recent candidate do you feel most closely embodies a Jeffersonian Democrat? List specific positions taken by that candidate and explain how they align to Jeffersonian ideals.
6. During the rally in Nuremberg, the mayor presented Hitler with Albrecht Durer’s famous print “Knight, Death, and the Devil.” Examine the way that the Nazis used art and music as propaganda. Research a composer or artist (like Durer) that Hitler approved of and promoted and present examples of their work to your class. Explain the message that the Nazi party hoped to convey through the art or music. Alternately, you may research an artist, writer, or musician that Hitler banned and discuss why their work was considered “dangerous” to Hitler’s agenda.
7. Ambassador Dodd concluded his speech “Economic Nationalism” with the following observation: “No system which implies control of society by privilege seekers has ever ended any other way than collapse.” Relate Dodd’s observation to the current debate about the distribution of political power and the influence of private financing and special interest groups in American politics. Explain whether or not you feel Dodd’s comment is relevant to our current political landscape.
8. Dodd felt frustrated by what he viewed as the extravagant lifestyles of his colleagues in Foreign Service. According to Dodd, an American in foreign service should “be required to live within his salary,” “know the history and customs of his host country,” and “think of their country’s interests, not so much about a different suit of clothes each day or sitting up at gay but silly dinners every night.” Research the current requirements for working in Foreign Service. What type of person do you think would make an ideal ambassador? Would you ever consider a career in Foreign Service? Explain why or why
not.
9. There is an ongoing debate about the United States government’s use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Consider the current debate in light of the following quote by Gestapo director Diels: “The infliction of physical punishment is not every man’s job, and naturally we were only too prepared to recruit men that showed no squeamishness at their task . . . it was only after a number of instances of unnecessary flogging and meaningless cruelty that I tumbled to the fact that my organization had been attracting all the sadists in Germany and Austria . . . . It had actually been creating sadists. For it
seems that corporal chastisement ultimately arouses sadistic leanings in apparently normal men and women.” Research studies (e.g., the Milgram experiment) that look at the psychological impact of techniques that require a subject to inflict physical pain on another person. Explain whether the studies support or refute Diels’s assertion.
10. Counterfactual history is an exercise that seeks to demonstrate the relative importance of a single historical event by contemplating a scenario where that event did not occur or happened differently. The narrative of In the Garden of Beasts is filled with moments where the course of history could have been altered. Choose a moment in the book that you consider significant and make a researched speculation about how a change at that moment would have altered the course of history.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Be sure to read the authors notes at the end of the book.
by Rodmo (see profile) 02/27/15
If possible go on You Tube and watch the videos the author suggests. Very, very interesting.

Member Reviews

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  "amazing detail"by vvesper (see profile) 08/11/16

Larsen utilizes such great detail in his books. You feel as though you're actually there in teh time and place...

 
  "In the Garden of Beasts"by trishshows (see profile) 11/18/15

Tedious. Extremely tedious. First book in a century that I struggled to finish.

 
  "In the Garden of Beasts"by smiley (see profile) 03/01/15

Took a long time to get into it - read rather like a text book. Some interesting characters, though, especially Martha, the ambassador's daughter.
Enjoyable to those who like history, and
... (read more)

 
  "In The Garden of the Beasts"by Rodmo (see profile) 02/27/15

Well written and documented. A part of American History we should all know about. This book was a
real eye-opener. How does an entire country let a
tyrant come to power?

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