August 10, 2014

An American Ambassador in Berlin during the rise of the Third Reich

I knew going into this that it wasn't going to be a book that I could immediately walk away from once it was finished. About a quarter of the way through, I was already making notes about what other books about the period I was going to add to the TRL (To Read List if you're new here). Erik Larson continues to be a master at narrative nonfiction and In the Garden of Beasts is an engrossing story that you can't help but feel you're experiencing right alongside the protagonists. William Dodd was placed in Berlin as Ambassador by Roosevelt himself and most of those back in the State Department felt he was a poor choice. He didn't fit the mold by any means and I think that is why he was a good choice. He was a man of few means but of many (eloquent) words. He said what was on his mind and only afterward wondered if he should have been more "diplomatic" in his dealings with those in power in Germany. Years later, the Nazis taunted that he had no real impact while he was there and that he was much disliked by the German people.  If he was so unimportant and insignificant why did they feel the need to publicly deride him as he was on his deathbed? Also, there was Dodd's daughter Martha who changed beaus about as often as most people change their clothes. A lot of the material used in the book came from her memoir and letters (as well as a variety of other sources such as Dodd's diary).  Larson portrays the view that most Americans had of Germany pre-WWII which in hindsight makes us look idiotic, naive, and callous. We were too engrossed in our domestic affairs to truly see the atrocities that were already occurring and the power that was being amassed under Hitler to put a stop to one of the most horrendous wars of all time. If you're curious about this time in history or if you simply want to learn more about a simple man trying to accomplish big things with little to no support from his government then you should definitely check this one out.

Have you ever been looking over the books on your shelves and seen one that you had no recollection of obtaining? Well, that happened to me but I've finally recalled why/when I got this one. The book is The Seven Lives of John Murray: The Story of a Publishing Dynasty by Humphrey Carpenter and I picked it up in 2010 when I was going to London to study Library Sciences. Apparently I didn't get around to reading this one but found it interesting enough to keep. This is the biographical tale of one of the biggest publishing houses in the world from 1768 - 2002. It was begun by Carpenter but unfortunately he passed away before its completion and therefore it was edited and finished by Candida Brazil and James Hamilton. According to the back cover, there were many controversies and sagas surrounding this most esteemed publishing house which involved Jane Austin, Byron, etc. Ummm yes please!

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