In the Garden of Beasts.

Author:Butler, Michael
Position:Book review
 
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Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassadorial appointments included the highly successful (Laurence Steinhardt), the able but duplicitous (William C. Bullitt) and the self-important dilettante (Joseph E. Davies). Roosevelt's decision in 1933 to send William E. Dodd as his representative to Berlin was one among a series of foreign-policy missteps during his first weeks in office. Overwhelmed by his duties as chairman of the History Department at the University of Chicago, Dodd lobbied for appointment as Minister to Brussels or The Hague, under the quaint assumption that those offices required little effort and offered time to write. Unable to convince a man of stature to become Ambassador to Hitler's Germany, Roosevelt finally settled on Dodd. Suspecting the position would be too much for him, Dodd accepted nonetheless, compounding his error by inviting his two adult children to accompany him to Berlin. The appointment was one of several that reduced the quality and influence of American representatives in key European capitals. Roosevelt's first ambassadors in Paris and London qualified principally because of their early and generous support of his candidacy. Hoover's representatives in Germany, France and Great Britain included two former US Senators, a former US Vice-President and a former Secretary of Treasury.

Erik Larson draws from Dodd's papers and published diary and the papers and published memoir of his daughter Martha (1) to draw a vibrant picture of a man (and family) under psychological siege in Berlin from the Nazi regime and, in Dodd's mistaken view, from his embassy staff and counterparts in Washington. Larson vividly depicts the chaos that accompanied Hitler's consolidation of power, and justifiably portrays the decline of the democratic German polity and society as tragic for the many decent people who inhabit his narrative. The story benefits from Martha Dodd's appalling judgment: escaping a dying marriage in Chicago, her lovers included an NKVD officer under Soviet diplomatic cover, the chief of the Gestapo, Goring's second-in-command at the Luftwaffe, Kaiser Wilhelm's grandson and a French diplomat. "This was not a house," Dodd's German butler lamented, "but a house of ill repute." Martha Dodd's papers provide Larson material that a novelist would be ashamed to invent.

Larson judges Dodd successful at satisfying Roosevelt's desire to have a living example of American liberalism in the Nazi capital. Yet it is clear - less from...

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