In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson, Crown Publishing, May 2011
...a totally different view of the time period
Having read many books about WWII and the run up to it I was pleasantly surprised at Erik Larson's contribution to this body of work. He tells the story of William Dodd, an unlikely choice to be America's ambassador to the new German government formed by Adolf Hitler in 1933. Dodd, on paper unqualified for the job, comes from an academic background teaching in Chicago. A self described "Jeffersonian democrat" he responds to Roosevelt's request to fill this position. He moves his wife and two adult children, Martha and Bill to Berlin. Martha is recently separated from an older husband and open for adventures of all kinds in Europe.
In retrospect it is easy to see the evil that was Hitler's Reich. In 1933 as he was coming to power in Germany things were much less clear. The primary concern of the US government appears to have been getting Germany to repay US loans (the large financial institutions making self serving decisions as usual). To his credit William Dodd early on recognized the evil aspects of Hitler's regime. When the career US diplomats were cautioning against any opposition to Hitler, Dodd was making speeches that warned of the lawlessness and arms building occurring in Germany. In 1933/34 Hitler's power was far from absolute and you can only speculate what might have happened if some governments - US and European - had spoken out as Dodd wanted.
Dodd's daughter Martha had a different take on the new regime. She had a romantic relationship with at least one military officer in the SS. While initially enamoured of the energy and charisma of Hitler, she witnesses at least one attack by "brown shirts" and recognized the developing hatred of the regime for the Jews. She has several affairs while in Germany and develops a lasting relationship with a Russian embassy officer, at least until he is terminated by Stalin. Her story captures the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Berlin in the 1930s. She too in the end recognizes the evil in the Nazi government.
Both Dodd and his daughter were faithful diarists enabling the author using the diaries and other sources to reconstruct an almost day by day account of those times. It is a totally different view of the time period from what you would read in most histories. It reads almost like gossipy fiction.
My one criticism of the book is that it was remarkably devoid of photos. I've come to expect them in non fiction stories like this and there were very few throughout the text.