This work of non-fiction  by Erik Larson is a remarkable  historical perspective  of  William E. Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.

With the ear of FDR,  Dodd is given the posting to Berlin over the objections of Secretary of State Hull and the insiders of the ” Pretty Good Club,” who ruled the bureaucracy at the U.S. State Department prior to WW II.   Dodd further distanced himself from “ the club” with his frugality, conservative approach and his unwillingness to bend the truth in his actions in Germany and resulting communications with his superiors.  Dodd was a Diplomat by accident. He was a scholar, a Jeffersonian Democrat, a farmer who loved the history of old Germany where he had studied as a young man. He was shocked by the changes taking place  as Hitler rose to power.

Dodd and his family arrived in Germany in 1933.  His daughter Martha, abandoning a husband in New York,  joins her father,  brother Bill, Jr. and Dodd’s wife as the family establishes residency in Berlin. While Dodd is hard at work trying to understand Hitler and the Nazi Party, Martha joins the social whirl and conducts affairs with what became dozens of lovers of all rank in the diplomatic circle. On the contrary, Bill, Jr. and Dodd’s wife maintain a low profile, while Ambassador Dodd tries to fathom the complexities of a sea change in the German government.

Erik Larson’s work is engrossing from the first page. Beginning with the faint echoes of  jack-boots, through Ambassador Dodd’s perception, you envision the steps of the evolution of  the coming blood and terror of Nazism.  Meanwhile, Martha adopts the party line of a “New Germany!”  At the turn of every page, I could faintly hear Joel Grey in clown make-up singing from Cabaret, Wilkomen, I am Cabaret. Do you feel good? Leave your troubles outside, in here, life is beautiful!

Life was not beautiful and Dodd knew it. Germany was living an orchestrated lie.  He stood firm against the rising abuse, publicly chided the Third Reich and enraged his detractors in Washington, D.C.  Said Secretary Hull, “Why can’t you just get along!” Dodd would have no part of the establishment in D.C. or the Third Reich. His was a voice crying in the wilderness of  Nazi propaganda and U.S. isolationism.

 Then came the “ Night of the Long Knives.”  Hundreds of Hitler’s adversaries were murdered, in their homes, hanged in prisons,  guillotined, while others were shot and left to die only to be discovered by their children.  Hitler deemed his victims enemies of the state, justifying cold blooded murder.The persecution of Jews had already begun. Kristallnacht was on the horizon. The policy of appeasement toward Hitler, which Dodd fought so hard against, continued. No government recalled its ambassador or filed a protest. This was the beginning of Hitler’s rise to total power. To no avail, Dodd warned of a march toward war. Ironically, Roosevelt shared his view but most Americans had no stomach for involvement in European conflicts. In the end, FDR acquiesced to Dodd’s detractors and a member of the “Pretty Good Club” replaced him.

In The Garden of Beasts reads like a novel.  The multiple themes are intriguing.  It is no surprise that it rose to the number one ranking on the New York Times Bestseller List. Martha wrote her own memoir of her life in Germany titled Through Embassy Eyes. Marthaand Bill, Jr. edited and published Ambassador Dodd’s Diary.

 How could the world stand by and watch this all happen?  Read In The Garden of Beasts and you will discover the book is aptly titled. Contrary to the Cabaret lyric, life was not good, it was merely an illusion, clown face and all. 

Erik LArson also wrote The Devil in the White City.




Andrew Roberts The Storm of War is without question the best and most complete overview of World War II that I have read. Extraordinary research, crammed with detail and revelations that  even well read students of the war will find enlightening.

Roberts, Britain’s  premiere military historian, writes with clarity and transforms this enormous subject into an understandable read that  links nearly every facet of the war to a logical conclusion. His penchant for detail and numbers easily falls into place making the narrative more exciting, eye-opening and impactful.  He clearly demonstrates that this two theater war,   based upon what he terms “false ideologies,”  is what led to the ultimate downfall of both Germany and Japan. Beginning with the rationale for Hitler’s failure to seize a victory at Dunkirk, the fall of France ( more French fought on the side of the Axis than the Allies,)  an explanation as to why Operation Sealion ( the invasion of Britain) was never carried out , the catastrophic blunder of Germany declaring War on the United States giving Roosevelt the green light to enter the war in  Europe, Roberts courses each twist and turn and his story is  often explosive and emotionally disturbing.  

Aficionados of military statistics are led through details of  comparison of  weapons, tanks, airplanes, submarines, troop strength.  In 1943, just over a year after Pearl Harbor the United States was building  98,000 war planes per year compared to Germany’s 40,000.  The Russians suffered 2-million casualties at Stalingrad and replaced the loses in a month. Germany lost 238,000 but had exhausted its reserves. His use of facts, rather than confuse, come together to strengthen the forcefulness of the book.

All of the major players are front and center, Churchill,  Roosevelt, Hitler, Hirohito, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Nimitz, Rommel, and the Nazi  cast of Field Marshalls, SS Officers plus  Goebbels, Goring, and Rundstedt. The author’s denunciation of the murder of millions of Jews is carefully calibrated and leaves absolutely no avenue for anyone involved to escape responsibility. 

Roberts brings insight into the Eastern front and Russia’s stalwart defence of Moscow, the  battle of Stalingrad and the siege of Leningrad.  The author outlines the impact of the failure of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa ( the conquest of Russia based upon his ideological hatred of  Bolshevism.)  To highlight the fallacy of Hitler’s fanatical focus on Russia, the German’s lost 2.4 million men killed in Operation Barbarossa as compared to 202,000 fighting the Allies on the Western front. Despite these losses  on the Eastern front, Hitler maintained a “stand and die policy” nearly to the end. Ideology again!

The war in Pacific receives equal attention. From Pearl Harbor  through the dropping of the atomic bombs the reader learns why the great battles in the Pacific were won and lost in many cases  because the ideological leaders in Japan, like Germany, refused to listen to the generals on the ground. “The awakening of the sleeping giant.” ” The miracle at Midway.”

If I were asked to recommend just one volume as an overview of the Second World War my choice would be The Storm of War. However, this work will be appreciated even more  by those who have read extensively individual works by other renowned World War Two Historians such as Max Hastings , who is referenced throughout the volume by Roberts.

I met Andrew Roberts at a lecture in New York City. It became immediately clear that The Storm of War  would require reading every page, packed with facts and few wasted words. No quick read here and definitely not a historical novel. However, despite the immersion in detail, this epic story is profound and the conclusions logical because in the end Andrew Roberts seems to have missed nothing.

For W Roberts history on the World War II Western front, read Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won The War in the West ( 1941-1945)