In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Because the last one was so short, and only kind of a review, I decided I’d write another one for ya today. And because the sun is shining and summer is in full bloom out here, I decided to write about a book that tackles one of the bleakest parts of European history. Hurrah!
This is my favourite book by one of my all-time favourite nonfiction authors.
Larson has written a lot of great stuff (The Devil in the White City is a contender for my favourite one of his as well. I have a morbid fascination with serial killers, and an almost as morbid fascination with obsession. I love stories about people whose whole lives have been sucked up by something, how that can, for just a little bit, make them great, before everything else around them collapses from lack of attention. I don’t know why it interests me so much, but the things that obsessives can achieve before their almost inevitable downfall has always captivated me. Plus H.H. Holmes is one doozy of a serial killer. Crazy, gross, horrific stuff), but this is the one that feels the most important to me right now.
I’m not going to go too much into the current political climate (you’re on the internet, you’ve spent just as much time being bombarded, day after endless day, by that stuff as I have), but I figure once I’m done talking about this book, you’ll probably know what I mean.
It’s the story of an American ambassador and his family in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Now there’s been tons of books about Nazi Germany, I’ve read a few of them myself, but I’ve never read one that had this perspective on it. This is a prime view of a progressive, wealthy, relatively liberal country slowly turning down the road of fascism, heading down the path that led to one of the most horrific events in modern history. Fully understanding why it happened is…a task. It’s so complicated, and people who are smarter than I am have butted their heads up against before and failed. But I think this book has a good handle on one of the facets of it.
The family in the novel have regular contact with the German elite, both the Nazis and the intellectuals who despise them. At the beginning of the novel everybody has heard the stories about violence against the Jewish population, but nobody really believes them (that and an undercurrent of broad, universal antisemitism, not just in Germans but in everybody, tend to undermine any of the reports of violence that have been spreading about). Their country is a relatively progressive, safe place, and they can’t believe that anything too bad could really happen there. They all seem pretty secure in the idea that somebody would stop it if it did. Besides, it’s not happening to them, not affecting their families and loved ones. Not yet. But bit by bit you watch as the family, and everybody around them, comes into more and more contact with the rising tide of fascism, the violence and the racism and irrationality of the Nazis. By the time people realize that it’s not a passing phase, that this party and their petty, ridiculous leader are not actually a joke, it’s too late. They and their loved ones are no longer safe. The Nazis have too much power and they’re too quick to use it.
I don’t need to spell out to you why I think this is an important idea to have out there right now, better writers than me have already made the comparison, and more eloquently than I could. But even if you disagree with my interpretation of recent events, this is an interesting and important read. Watching a modern society slide into that kind of brutality is infuriating and depressing, but it’s also fascinating.
For lovers of nonfiction, history, WWII, and a unique perspective on events that have already been talked to death. (And I know I say this a bit, but) Also just anybody. This is a really good book you guys, and I think ya’ll would like it :).


PS. This is a dark book about a dark topic, so maybe in retaliation to that (and other things) go out there and spread a little love around. Tell somebody you think they look great (but don’t be creepy), or offer to help somebody you see struggling, or maybe just buy the coffee of the person standing behind you in line at your local cafe. It doesn’t have to be big, but every nice thing you do adds to our side of the scale. Let’s tip that shit in our favour. ❤

2 thoughts on “In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

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  1. I’ve been thinking about this one for a while but never got around to it, so this really bumps it up on my TBR list. I’ve taken in tons of WWII lit and I’m starting to think this one could also be a valuable add to my classroom library. Awesome review!


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