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Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

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Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City, delivers a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
    A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
    Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.



Means of Escape

The telephone call that forever changed the lives of the Dodd family of Chicago came at noon on Thursday, June 8, 1933, as William E. Dodd sat at his desk at the University of Chicago.

Now chairman of the history department, Dodd had been a professor at the university since 1909, recognized nationally for his work on the American South and for a biography of Woodrow Wilson. He was sixty-four years old, trim, five feet eight inches tall, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair. Though his face at rest tended to impart severity, he in fact had a sense of humor that was lively, dry, and easily ignited. He had a wife, Martha, known universally as Mattie, and two children, both in their twenties. His daughter, also named Martha, was twenty-four years old; his son, William Jr.--Bill--was twenty-eight.

By all counts they were a happy family and a close one. Not rich by any means, but well off, despite the economic depression then gripping the nation. They lived in a large house at 5757 Blackstone Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, a few blocks from the university. Dodd also owned--and every summer tended--a small farm in Round Hill, Virginia, which, according to a county survey, had 386.6 acres, “more or less,” and was where Dodd, a Jeffersonian democrat of the first stripe, felt most at home, moving among his twenty-one Guernsey heifers; his four geldings, Bill, Coley, Mandy, and Prince; his Farmall tractor; and his horse-drawn Syracuse plows. He made coffee in a Maxwell House can atop his old wood-burning stove. His wife was not as fond of the place and was more than happy to let him spend time there by himself while the rest of the family remained behind in Chicago. Dodd named the farm Stoneleigh, because of all the rocks strewn across its expanse, and spoke of it the way other men spoke of first loves. “The fruit is so beautiful, almost flawless, red and luscious, as we look at it, the trees still bending under the weight of their burden,” he wrote one fine night during the apple harvest. “It all appeals to me.”

Though generally not given to cliche, Dodd described the telephone call as a “sudden surprise out of a clear sky.” This was, however, something of an exaggeration. Over the preceding several months there had been talk among his friends that one day a call like this might come. It was the precise nature of the call that startled Dodd, and troubled him.

For some time now, Dodd had been unhappy in his position at the university. Though he loved teaching history, he loved writing it more, and for years he had been working on what he expected would be the definitive recounting of early southern history, a four-volume series that he called The Rise and Fall of the Old South, but time and again he had found his progress stymied by the routine demands of his job. Only the first volume was near completion, and he was of an age when he feared he would be buried alongside the unfinished remainder. He had negotiated a reduced schedule with his department, but as is so often the case with such artificial ententes, it did not work in the manner he had hoped. Staff departures and financial pressures within the university associated with the Depression had left him working just as hard as ever, dealing with university officials, preparing lectures, and confronting the engulfing needs of graduate students. In a letter to the university’s Department of Buildings and Grounds dated October 31, 1932, he pleaded for heat in his office on Sundays so he could have at least one day to devote to uninterrupted writing. To a friend he described his position as “embarrassing.”

Adding to his dissatisfaction was his belief that he should have been farther along in his career than he was. What had kept him from advancing at a faster clip, he complained to his wife, was the fact that he had not grown up in a life of privilege and instead had been compelled to work hard for all that he achieved, unlike others in his field who had advanced more quickly. And indeed, he had reached his position in life the hard way. Born on October 21, 1869, at his parents’ home in the tiny hamlet of Clayton, North Carolina, Dodd entered the bottom stratum of white southern society, which still adhered to the class conventions of the antebellum era. His father, John D. Dodd, was a barely literate subsistence farmer; his mother, Evelyn Creech, was descended from a more exalted strain of North Carolina stock and deemed to have married down. The couple raised cotton on land given to them by Evelyn’s father and barely made a living. In the years after the Civil War, as cotton production soared and prices sank, the family fell steadily into debt to the town’s general store, owned by a relative of Evelyn’s who was one of Clayton’s three men of privilege--“hard men,” Dodd called them: “. . . traders and aristocratic masters of their dependents!”

Dodd was one of seven children and spent his youth working the family’s land. Although he saw the work as honorable, he did not wish to spend the rest of his life farming and recognized that the only way a man of his lowly background could avoid this fate was by gaining an education. He fought his way upward, at times focusing so closely on his studies that other students dubbed him “Monk Dodd.” In February 1891 he entered Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Virginia Tech). There too he was a sober, focused presence. Other students indulged in such pranks as painting the college president’s cow and staging fake duels so as to convince freshmen that they had killed their adversaries. Dodd only studied. He got his bachelor’s degree in 1895 and his master’s in 1897, when he was twenty-six years old.

At the encouragement of a revered faculty member, and with a loan from a kindly great-uncle, Dodd in June 1897 set off for Germany and the University of Leipzig to begin studies toward a doctorate. He brought his bicycle. He chose to focus his dissertation on Thomas Jefferson, despite the obvious difficulty of acquiring eighteenth-century American documents in Germany. Dodd did his necessary classwork and found archives of relevant materials in London and Berlin. He also did a lot of traveling, often on his bicycle, and time after time was struck by the atmosphere of militarism that pervaded Germany. At one point one of his favorite professors led a discussion on the question “How helpless would the United States be if invaded by a great German army?” All this Prussian bellicosity made Dodd uneasy. He wrote, “There was too much war spirit everywhere.”

Dodd returned to North Carolina in late autumn 1899 and after months of search at last got an instructor’s position at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. He also renewed a friendship with a young woman named Martha Johns, the daughter of a well-off landowner who lived near Dodd’s hometown. The friendship blossomed into romance and on Christmas Eve 1901, they married.

At Randolph-Macon, Dodd promptly got himself into hot water. In 1902 he published an article in the Nation in which he attacked a successful campaign by the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans to have Virginia ban a history textbook that the veterans deemed an affront to southern honor. Dodd charged that the veterans believed the only valid histories were those that held that the South “was altogether right in seceding from the Union.”

The backlash was immediate. An attorney prominent in the veterans’ movement launched a drive to have Dodd fired from Randolph-Macon. The school gave Dodd its full support. A year later he attacked the veterans again, this time in a speech before the American Historical Society in which he decried their efforts to “put out of the schools any and all books which do not come up to their standard of local patriotism.” He railed that “to remain silent is out of the question for a strong and honest man.”

Dodd’s stature as a historian grew, and so too did his family. His son was born in 1905, his daughter in 1908. Recognizing that an increase in salary would come in handy and that pressure from his southern foes was unlikely to abate, Dodd put his name in the running for an opening at the University of Chicago. He got the job, and in the frigid January of 1909, when he was thirty-nine years old, he and his family made their way to Chicago, where he would remain for the next quarter century. In October 1912, feeling the pull of his heritage and a need to establish his own credibility as a true Jeffersonian democrat, he bought his farm. The grueling work that had so worn on him during his boyhood now became for him both a soul-saving diversion and a romantic harking back to America’s past.

Dodd also discovered in himself an abiding interest in the political life, triggered in earnest when in August 1916 he found himself in the Oval Office of the White House for a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson. The encounter, according to one biographer, “profoundly altered his life.”

Dodd had grown deeply uneasy about signs that America was sliding toward intervention in the Great War then being fought in Europe. His experience in Leipzig had left him no doubt that Germany alone was responsible for starting the war, in satisfaction of the yearnings of Germany’s industrialists and aristocrats, the Junkers, whom he likened to the southern aristocracy before the Civil War. Now he saw the emergence of a similar hubris on the part of America’s own industrial and military elites. When an army general tried to include the University of Chicago in a national campaign to ready the nation for war, Dodd bridled and took his complaint directly to the commander in chief.

Dodd wanted only ten minutes of Wilson’s time but got far more and found himself as thoroughly charmed as if he’d been the recipient of a potion in a fairy tale. He came to believe that Wilson was correct in advocating U.S. intervention in the war. For Dodd, Wilson became the modern embodiment of Jefferson. Over the next seven years, he and Wilson became friends; Dodd wrote Wilson’s biography. Upon Wilson’s death on February 3, 1924, Dodd fell into deep mourning.

At length he came to see Franklin Roosevelt as Wilson’s equal and threw himself behind Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign, speaking and writing on his behalf whenever an opportunity arose. If he had hopes of becoming a member of Roosevelt’s inner circle, however, Dodd soon found himself disappointed, consigned to the increasingly dissatisfying duties of an academic chair.

Now he was sixty-four years old, and the way he would leave his mark on the world would be with his history of the old South, which also happened to be the one thing that every force in the universe seemed aligned to defeat, including the university’s policy of not heating buildings on Sundays.

More and more he considered leaving the university for some position that would allow him time to write, “before it is too late.” The idea occurred to him that an ideal job might be an undemanding post within the State Department, perhaps as an ambassador in Brussels or The Hague. He believed that he was sufficiently prominent to be considered for such a position, though he tended to see himself as far more influential in national affairs than in fact he was. He had written often to advise Roosevelt on economic and political matters, both before and immediately after Roosevelt’s victory. It surely galled Dodd that soon after the election he received from the White House a form letter stating that while the president wanted every letter to his office answered promptly, he could not himself reply to all of them in a timely manner and thus had asked his secretary to do so in his stead.

Dodd did, however, have several good friends who were close to Roosevelt, including the new secretary of commerce, Daniel Roper. Dodd’s son and daughter were to Roper like nephew and niece, sufficiently close that Dodd had no compunction about dispatching his son as intermediary to ask Roper whether the new administration might see fit to appoint Dodd as minister to Belgium or the Netherlands. “These are posts where the government must have somebody, yet the work is not heavy,” Dodd told his son. He confided that he was motivated mainly by his need to complete his Old South. “I am not desirous of any appointment from Roosevelt but I am very anxious not to be defeated in a life-long purpose.”

In short, Dodd wanted a sinecure, a job that was not too demanding yet that would provide stature and a living wage and, most important, leave him plenty of time to write--this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited. “As to high diplomacy (London, Paris, Berlin) I am not the kind,” he wrote to his wife early in 1933. “I am distressed that this is so on your account. I simply am not the sly, two-faced type so necessary to ‘lie abroad for the country.’ If I were, I might go to Berlin and bend the knee to Hitler--and relearn German.” But, he added, “why waste time writing about such a subject? Who would care to live in Berlin the next four years?”

Whether because of his son’s conversation with Roper or the play of other forces, Dodd’s name soon was in the wind. On March 15, 1933, during a sojourn at his Virginia farm, he went to Washington to meet with Roosevelt’s new secretary of state, Cordell Hull, whom he had met on a number of previous occasions. Hull was tall and silver haired, with a cleft chin and strong jaw. Outwardly, he seemed the physical embodiment of all that a secretary of state should be, but those who knew him better understood that when angered he had a most unstatesmanlike penchant for releasing torrents of profanity and that he suffered a speech impediment that turned his r’s to w’s in the manner of the cartoon character Elmer Fudd--a trait that Roosevelt now and then made fun of privately, as when he once spoke of Hull’s “twade tweaties.” Hull, as usual, had four or five red pencils in his shirt pocket, his favored tools of state. He raised the possibility of Dodd receiving an appointment to Holland or Belgium, exactly what Dodd had hoped for. But now, suddenly forced to imagine the day-to-day reality of what such a life would entail, Dodd balked. “After considerable study of the situation,” he wrote in his little pocket diary, “I told Hull I could not take such a position.”

But his name remained in circulation.

And now, on that Thursday in June, his telephone began to ring. As he held the receiver to his ear, he heard a voice he recognized immediately.

From the Hardcover edition.
Erik Larson

About Erik Larson

Erik Larson - In the Garden of Beasts

Photo © Benjamin Benschneider

Erik Larson is the author of four national bestsellers: In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 5.5 million copies. His books have been published in seventeen countries.

Praise | Awards



“By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story.” —New York Times

“Reads like an elegant thriller…utterly compelling… marvelous stuff. An excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller, and probably will be.”
—Washington Post

“The most important book of 2011.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“A dazzling amalgam of reportage….Reads like a suspense novel, replete with colorful characters, both familiar and those previously relegated to the shadows.  Like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories or Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS is an on-the-ground documentary of a society going mad in slow motion.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Fascinating...A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction.” —People (3 1/2 stars)

“Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds’ intimate witness to Hitler’s ascendancy and created an edifying narrative of this historical byway that has all the pleasures of a political thriller….a fresh picture of these terrrible events.”
—New York Times Book Review

“Larson, a master of historical nonfiction, has written a fascinating book that, although carefully researched and documented, reads like a political thriller...highly recommended to anyone interested in the rise of the Third Reich and America’s role in that process.” —Jewish Book World

“Larson's strengths as a storyteller have never been stronger than they are here, and this story is far more important than either "The Devil in the White City" or "Thunderstruck." How the United States dithered as Hitler rose to power is a cautionary tale that bears repeating, and Larson has told it masterfully.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Larson has done it again, expertly weaving together a fresh new narrative from ominous days of the 20th century.” —Associated Press

“Mesmerizing...cinematic, improbable yet true.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Compelling...the kind of book that brings history alive.” —USA TODAY

“[G]ripping, a nightmare narrative of a terrible time.  It raises again the question never fully answered about the Nazi era—what evil humans are capable of, and what means are necessary to cage the beast.” —Seattle Times

“A stunning work of history.” —Newsweek

“Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well.” Financial Times

“A cautionary tale not to be missed.” —Washington Times

“Highly compelling...Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamour and horror...a welcome new chapter in the vast canon of World War II literature.”
Christian Science Monitor 

“Terrific storytelling.” —Los Angeles Times

“Vivid and immediate...a fascinating and gripping account.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Gripping...a story of stunning impact.” —New York Daily News

“Larson is superb at creating a you-are-there sense of time and place. In the Garden of Beasts is also a superb book...nothing less than masterful.” —Toronto Globe and Mail  

“Harrowingly suspenseful.” —Vogue.com
“Larson has taken a brilliant idea and turned it into a gripping book.” —Women's Wear Daily

“A gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page.” —Louisville Courier Journal

“Electrifying reading...fascinating.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Larson's books are tightly focused and meticulously researched, but they also are rich in anecdote and detail from the homey mundane to the tragic, the absurd and the downright funny. His prose has an austere, compassionate lyricism. His narratives have novelistic pull...his psychological perception and empathic imagination lend flesh to the documents, music to the ballrooms. He gives a throbbing pulse to the foolish and the wise, the malignant and the kind.” —The Oregonian

“A masterly work of salacious nonfiction that captures the decadent and deadly years of The Third Reich.” —Men's Journal

“Even though we know how it will end — the book's climax, the Night of the Long Knives, being just the beginning, this is a page-turner, full of flesh and blood people and monsters too, whose charms are particularly disturbing.” —Portsmouth Herald
“Larson’s latest chronicle of history has as much excitement as a thriller novel, and it’s all the more thrilling because it’s all true.” —Asbury Park Press

“Larson succeeds brilliantly…offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war.” —Maclean's

“Larson's scholarship is impressive, but it's his pacing and knack for suspense that elevates the book from the matter-of-fact to the sublime.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“[A] brilliant tour de force of nonfiction writing...Larson, as always, conjures magic with the details, and often injects a welcome dollop of dark humor...In the Garden of Beasts serves as both a serious, insightful look at history, and a stern warning against national complacency when you’re being run by a dictator who is both vicious and undeniably off his rocker.” —Dallas Morning News
“Like slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended….It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy.” —Vanity Fair

“A master of nonfiction storytelling...Larson once again gathers an astounding amount of historical detail to re-create scene after vivid scene...a stunning, provocative immersion...a call to citizens in all nations to investigate the motives of power brokers and government officials, to stand our ground when we see others' moral compasses going awry.” —Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram


“No other author...has the ability to actually live up to that old adage of making history come alive. What Larson is doing is creating a world that no longer exists on the page...[He] not only succeeds but is able to turn what one would expect to be tedium into page-turning brilliance.” —Digital Americana

“Narrative nonfiction at its finest, this story drops into 1933 Berlin as William E. Dodd becomes the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler's Germany—a tale of intrigue, romance, and foreboding.” —Kansas City Star

“One of the most popular history books this year...offers something for both serious students of the 1930s and for lovers of charming stories.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Erik Larson tackles this outstanding period of history as fully and compellingly as he portrayed the events in his bestseller, The Devil in the White City. With each page, more horrors are revealed, making it impossible to put down. In the Garden of Beasts reads like the true thriller it is.” —BookReporter.com

“In this mesmerizing portrait of the Nazi capital, Larson plumbs a far more diabolical urban cauldron than in his bestselling The Devil in the White City...a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders, including murderous Nazi factional infighting, through the accretion of small crimes and petty thuggery.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“A brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status.” —Booklist (Starred Review)

“Larson writes history like a novelist...conveying quite wonderfully the electrically charged atmosphere of a whole society turning towards the stormy dark.” —The Telegraph

Praise for Erik Larson
“A ripping yarn of murder and invention.” Los Angeles Times

“Larson’s gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Gripping….An edge-of-the-seat read.”People
“[Larson] relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel….a dynamic, enveloping book.”
The New York Times

“A hugely engrossing chronicle of events public and private. Exceedingly well-documented, exhaustive without being excessive, and utterly fascinating.”
Chicago Tribune
“An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep-defying fiction.” Time Out New York

“A gripping account…fascinating to its core, and all the more compelling for being true.” New York Times Book Review

“Superb...Larson has made the Great Hurricane live again.” The Wall Street Journal

“Gripping….The Jaws of hurricane yarns.” Newsday


NOMINEE 2012 Audie Awards
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


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In the Garden of Beasts
R A N D O M H O U S E , I N C . T E A C H E R ’ S G U I D E
By Erik Larson
Broadway | TR | 978-0-307-40885-3 | 480pp. | $16.00/$19.00 Can.
Reading Level: 11th Grade
Also Available:
Audio CD: 978-0-307-91457-6 | $45.00/$51.00 Can.
e-Book: 978-0-307-88795-5 | $12.99/$15.99 Can.
about the book
In June of 1933, less than six months after Adolf Hitler was named chancellor, President Roosevelt offered a mild-mannered history professor from Chicago named William Dodd the position of American ambassador to Germany. Dodd viewed the position as an opportunity to finish the project that he believed would be his legacy: a multivolume history of the American South. It was also a chance to reconnect with his two adult children, Bill Jr. and Martha, whom he invited to accompany him overseas.   
The Berlin that the Dodds initially encountered appeared, on the surface, to be vibrant and full of promise. Martha, in particular, was entranced, and she began a series of affairs with powerful and influential men, including officials within the Nazi party. In Hitler’s Berlin, however, nothing was as it appeared to be, and reports of violence against Jews along with a series of attacks against Americans suggested that a more sinister reality lurked beneath the thin veneer of normalcy. As Dodd’s distaste for the policies and practices of the Third Reich increased and Hitler’s rhetoric grew more and more alarming, the ambassador found himself increasingly at odds with the embassy establishment, the State Department, and the Nazi party. Eventually, Hitler’s horrific agenda became impossible to ignore and both Dodd and his daughter had to make decisions that would haunt them for the remainder of their lives.
Erik Larson’s book paints a vivid portrait of this relatively unknown story in world history. Readers are invited to gaze out of the window of the Dodd’s rented home, a mansion owned by a wealthy Jewish family in the prestigious Tiergartenstrasse district, a short walk away from the houses of senior Nazi party officials and the park known as the Tiergarten, “Animal Garden” or the “Garden of Beasts,” and watch along side of Dodd and his daughter as one of the most brutal chapters in modern history unfolds before their eyes. This is the story of two Americans forced to acknowledge the reality of a previously unfathomable evil, and it raises questions that will resonate with contemporary readers about personal integrity and the way that people, and nations, allow themselves to be led astray.
about the author
ERIK LARSON is the bestselling author of Isaac’s Storm, Thunderstruck, and The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which won the 2004 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is a former writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. Larson has taught nonfiction writing at San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon. He lives in Seattle.
about the guide
In the Garden of Beasts is focused on a five-year window of time during Hitler’s rise to power.  A glossary of people that describes each person by the position they held during the time frame of the book is included for reference.

Within this guide, Guided Reading and Discussion Questions are provided for each chapter. These questions will help students engage in a close reading of the text and synthesize the complex characters and events mentioned throughout the narrative. Writing Prompts ask students to relate the themes of the text to their own experiences or take a position about a relevant issue. Prompts could be adapted for use in Socratic seminars or class debates. Topics for Further Discussion will require students to expand their thinking and engage in significant research activities related to issues in the book. Several of these topics ask students to connect issues in the book to current events and contemporary political discourse. The questions in the guide encourage cross-curricular collaboration and are adaptable to curriculum for both social studies and language arts.
before you read
Erik Larson’s book covers a very specific period of history: it mainly focuses on 1933–1934. In order to place the events of the book in context, have students work as a class to create a time line of major world events from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 to the McCarthy trials. Events of particular relevance to the book include the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the sinking of theLusitania, the Armistice of 1918, the Treaty of Versailles (especially the “Guilt Clause”), the Russian Revolution and establishment of the Soviet Union, the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag fire, Kristallnacht, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nuremberg trials, the Geneva Convention, and the McCarthy trials. You may wish to post the time line in the classroom for reference during your study of the book.
guided reading and discussion questions
Das Vorspiel: Prologue
Teachers may want to use the chapter “Das Vorspiel” (along with a review of the sources and acknowledgements section) to discuss the characteristics of nonfiction and to reflect on the sources that Larson used while writing this book.
1. Erik Larson used a variety of primary sources (especially letters, diaries, and other personal papers) when researching his book. How do you think the inclusion of these sources will impact the narrative focus of the book?
2. Based on this chapter and Larson’s sources, how do you think this book will be different from other books that have been written about Nazi Germany?
The Man Behind the Curtain
1. What conclusion did Messersmith reach about the type of person that was needed to fill the vacant ambassador position?
2. What detail about the new ambassador suggested that he would not fit Messersmith’s ideal?
Part One – Into the Wood
Chapter One
1. As a historian, what was Dodd’s main area of expertise? Why did his research anger the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans? What does his response to the controversy suggest about his moral character?
2. What did Dodd believe about Germany’s role in World War I (The Great War)? Did he support American intervention in the war?
Chapter Two
3. Why do you think Roosevelt had difficulty filling the vacant ambassador position in Berlin?
4. In what ways was Dodd a “less than ideal” candidate for ambassador to Germany? Despite these issues, why was he still offered the position?
5. In 1933, what did the majority of Americans believe about Hitler’s government?
6. Why did Dodd accept the position as ambassador? What did he hope to accomplish while in Germany? What was his reason for inviting his two adult children to accompany him?
Chapter Three
7. What reason did Martha give for the failure of her first marriage? What other factors do you think contributed to her divorce?
8. Why did Martha go to Berlin?
Chapter Four
9. What was Roosevelt’s primary concern about the German government?
10. Why were Jewish leaders frustrated with President Roosevelt? Explain the two sides of the debate within the Jewish community about how America should have proceeded in its relationship with Nazi Germany.
11. How did the majority of Americans feel about immigration? Explain the “LPC clause” in the Immigration Act of 1912. How was this clause used to discriminate against Jewish visa applicants? What other immigration policies made it difficult for Jewish Germans to obtain visas?
12. What did Dodd believe to be an appropriate lifestyle for a diplomat? How did his view contrast with Ambassador Wilson’s description of his fellow diplomats and their “pretty good club.”
13. What did Dodd learn about the extent of Germany’s financial obligation to the United States? Who did Dodd believe was primarily responsible for the burden of the debt?
14. How pervasive was anti-Semitic sentiment within the Roosevelt administration? What challenge could this present for an American ambassador to Germany?
15. At this point, do you believe Dodd was the “right man” for the job of ambassador to Germany? Why or why not?
Chapter Five
16. Martha described herself as being “slightly anti-Semitic.” Did her views reflect the views of the majority of Americans prior to World War II?
17. What career did Martha intend to pursue? What advice did Sandburg and Wilder give her before she left for Berlin?
18. Why was Dodd unhappy with the arrangements Messersmith had made for them at the Esplanade hotel?
19. What was the Tiergarten?
20. Summarize Martha’s initial response to Germany. How was it different than what she had expected based on the news reports she read in America?
Part Two – House Hunting in the Third Reich
Chapter Six
1. What did Sigrid Schultz and Martha Dodd disagree about? Why do you think Martha was so hesitant to believe Schultz?
2. Explain the significance of the “Aryan clause.” Why weren’t the restrictions caused by this clause evident to casual observers?
3. Why did Bassett visit Berlin? What was the outcome of his visit? 
Chapter Seven
4. In what ways did Gordon believe that Dodd had violated embassy custom? What does this list of offenses tell you about the disparity between Dodd and Gordon’s values and priorities?
5. Why was Dodd unable to be officially recognized as ambassador until the end of the summer?
6. What was the purpose of the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases? Based on this early legislation, what can you infer about the values of the Hitler regime?
7. Why was Dodd unhappy with the officers and other employees of the embassy?
8. Summarize the conflicts that existed within Hitler’s government.
9. Why did Dodd’s interactions with Neurath give him hope for the Nazi party?
10. Why were Philip Zuckerman and his wife attacked? What was the tragic outcome of the beatings? Why did Messersmith believe that nothing could be done officially on Mrs. Zuckerman’s behalf?
11. Consider Messersmith’s choice of words in his dispatch on the Zuckerman case: “It has been a favorite pastime of the SA men to attack the Jews and one cannot avoid the plain language of stating that they do not like to be deprived of their prey.” What are the connotations of the words that he used to describe the Nazis? What does this suggest about the way the SA operated?
12. Why did most American visitors to Germany fail to grasp the realities of Hitler’s regime?
Chapter Eight
13. How did Martha meet Putzi Hanfstaengl? Why did Martha and Quentin Reynolds like him?
Chapter Nine
14. Describe some of the journalist Edgar Mowrer’s methods for acquiring information about the Nazi party.
15. Explain the circumstances that caused Mowrer to feel betrayed by Messersmith and Dodd?
16. What did the chemist Fritz Haber invent? What was the intended use of his invention? How did the Nazi’s eventually use it?
17. Why did Haber’s wife kill herself?
18. Why did Haber visit Dodd? Why was Dodd unable to assist him?
19. Compare and contrast the perspectives of Messersmith, Wise, and Dodd concerning the persecution of Jews in Germany. Why do you think the men came to such different conclusions about the degree of harm being done by Hitler’s regime?
Chapter Ten
20. Describe the circumstances that lead to the Dodds renting the three floors of the mansion at Tiergartenstrasse. Why did Panofsky want the Dodds living in his house? 
21. What did the Dodd’s house become known for among the diplomatic community? 
22. Explain the significance of the location of Hitler’s program to euthanize mentally and physically disabled people, which was called Aktion T-4. One might assume that a program like Aktion T-4 would be hidden from public view. What do you think Hitler’s decision to house this program in the Tiergartenstrasse says about his agenda and methodology?
Part Three – Lucifer in the Garden
Chapter Eleven
1. Why was Daniel Mulvihill attacked? How did this attack differ from previous attacks against American citizens in Germany?
2. How did the U.S. consulate respond to the Mulvihill attack? What was the result of this response?
3. Explain the juxtaposition between the mood of the crowd that Martha and Reynolds encountered in Nuremberg and the purpose of their “parade.” What does this suggest about the culture of the Nazi party?
4. After witnessing first hand one of the atrocities being perpetrated against Jews, what action did Quentin Reynolds take? Why do you think Martha was unwilling to condemn the Nazis?
5. How did Nazi leadership respond to international criticism over the Anna Rath incident?
6. Why was Dodd hesitant to attend the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg? What did he hope that a silent protest of the rally by the ambassadors of Spain, France, Britain, and the United States would accomplish?
7. Why were Phillips and Moffat unhappy with Dodd’s decision to decline the Nazi’s invitation to attend the rally?
8. Do you think Dodd’s decision regarding the Nuremberg rally was appropriate given the circumstances? Should he have been more explicit in the way he expressed his disapproval? What might have been the consequences of a stronger rejection of the Nazi’s invitation?
Chapter Twelve
9. Describe the circumstances of the Kaltenborn attack. What did Messersmith find ironic about the situation?
10. Why did Dodd and Messersmith disagree about asking the State Department to issue a warning against travel in Germany? At the time, which side would you have agreed with?
11. How did Martha Dodd’s opinion of the Nazi party differ from her father’s?
12. Explain the allusion and significance of Mower’s final comment to Messersmith: “And
you too, Brutus.”
13. Why do you think Larson included the inventory list for the United States embassy’s cupboard? What does this inventory suggest about the role and responsibility of an ambassador?
Chapter Thirteen
14. What did Martha consider to be her “dark secret?” How did she use it to her advantage?
15. What effect did Martha have on men? Why do you think she had this effect?
16. What criticism did Messersmith make to the State Department regarding Martha Dodd?
17. Explain the allusion and significance of Rudolf Diels’s nickname: “The Prince of Darkness.”
18. What techniques did the Gestapo use to create a climate of “violence and terror” in Germany? Why did Diels think that such a climate was necessary?
Chapter Fourteen
19. What was the significance of the song that Boris played for Martha on their first date? 20. Martha found Boris’s “interrogation” of her during their first date a little odd. What did she attribute his behavior to? Can you think of any ulterior motivation that could also explain his actions?
21. Why did Martha feel the need to be discreet about her burgeoning relationship with Boris?

Chapter Fifteen

22. What was the primary concern that Dodd raised during his meeting with Neurath? How did Neurath respond?
23. What did Dodd and Neurath consider to be the “Jewish problem”? What does their conversation reveal about the prejudices within the governments of both the United States and Germany?
24. What threat did Dodd make before leaving Neurath’s office? How did Neurath respond?
25. What actions by the German government suggest that Neurath was insincere in his comments to Dodd?
Chapter Sixteen
26. What did Panofsky eventually do to the fourth story of the house the Dodds rented from him? How did Dodd feel about this change to the terms of their rental agreement?
27. What did Klemperer notice about Hitler’s use of language?
28. What was the purpose of the Editorial Law?
29. Faced with evidence of escalating persecution of Jewish German citizens and the growing power of the Nazi party, Messersmith suggested that one possible solution to the crisis would be “forcible intervention from the outside.” What do you think the results of such an action would have been?
30. The State Department did not agree with Messersmith’s assessment of the situation. What was their primary concern regarding the relationship between America and Germany?
Chapter Seventeen
31. Based on the conflict between Diels and Packebusch, what conclusions can you draw about tensions within the leadership of the Nazi party?
Chapter Eighteen
32. In Dodd’s speech, “Economic Nationalism” he used the rhetorical appeal of historical analogy in an attempt to persuade the Nazi officials to adopt a more moderate political stance. Summarize the historical analogies that Dodd used in his speech.
33. Analyze the response to Dodd’s speech. How did those present at the meeting receive it? How was it received elsewhere?
34. What startling news did Dodd receive regarding Hitler’s actions? What did Dodd believe these actions signaled?
35. At this point in Hitler’s rise to power no military action was taken to halt his ascension.
What would have been the most likely outcome of preemptive military action? 
Chapter Nineteen
36. Why did Hanfstaengl call Martha Dodd?
37. Make a prediction based on what you know about Martha: How do you think she will respond to Hanfstaengl’s proposition? Why do you think she will respond this way?
Part Four – How the Skeleton Aches
Chapter Twenty
1. Paraphrase Dodd’s first impression of Hitler. What subjects did the two men discuss? What was Hitler’s justification for withdrawing from the League of Nations?
2. Why did Martha agree to meet Hitler?
3. Compare Dodd and Martha’s responses to their encounters with Hitler. What conclusion did they both draw about the threat Hitler posed to the rest of the world? Why do you think they came to this conclusion?
4. What was the purpose of the letter Messersmith sent to Undersecretary Philips?

Chapter Twenty-One

5. Explain how the proposed changes to German law revealed an increased emphasis on racial purity.
6. What complaints did Dodd have about the way the American embassy operated? What do his complaints reveal about his own prejudices?
7. Describe the relationship between Messersmith and Dodd. Why was Dodd increasingly uneasy about Messersmith?
Chapter Twenty-Two
8. Summarize the positions of the prosecution and defense in the Reichstag arson trial.
9. One of the characteristics of a dictatorship is that the dictator operates outside the bounds of law. Explain how Göring’s testimony in the Reichstag trial demonstrates that he has no regard for the rule of law.
10. Why was Martha able to attend the trial? What effect did witnessing the testimony have on her?
Chapter Twenty-Three
11. What did the conversation between Martha and Boris reveal about Martha’s shifting sympathy towards communism?
Chapter Twenty-Four
12. Analyze the tactics (e.g., propaganda techniques, intimidation) that the Nazi party used to ensure an overwhelming victory in the public referendum on Hitler’s decision to withdraw from the League of Nations and seek equality of armaments.
13. What significant decision did President Roosevelt make regarding the Soviet Union?
Chapter Twenty-Five
14. What secret did Boris confess to Martha? How did she respond?
15. Summarize the obstacles that Boris and Martha faced if they continued to be romantically involved. What is your opinion of their relationship? Do you think their feelings for one another were sincere?
Chapter Twenty-Six
16. Explain how the name “The Ministry of Public Enlightenment” is an example of doublespeak.
17. Explain Vice-Chancellor Papen’s role in Hitler’s rise to power.
18. What did Papen and Dodd disagree about? How did this disagreement change the relationship between the two men?
19. Why did Poulette decide not to attend the Little Press Ball?
Chapter Twenty-Seven
20. Why did the Gestapo arrest American citizen Erwin Wollstein? What role did Diels play in Wollstein’s release?
21. How did the mood of the Dodd family change during their first winter in Germany?
22. Explain the forces behind the growing campaign against Ambassador Dodd. Do you think any of their criticisms of Dodd were valid?
23. What was the outcome of the Reichstag trial?
Part Five – Disquiet
Chapter Twenty-Eight
1. What superficial changes at the beginning of 1934 gave Dodd and other foreign representatives the impression that the situation in Germany was improving? 
2. Describe the changes that Eicke made to the way that concentration camps were operated. What effect did these changes have on the culture of the camps?

Chapter Twenty-Nine

3. How did Phillips and Moffat respond to Dodd’s complaints and concerns? What does their response suggest about the security of Dodd’s position as ambassador?
Chapter Thirty
4. Does anything about the elaborate date that Boris arranged for Martha strike you as strange? What do you think he hoped the date would accomplish?
5. Why do you think Martha felt a “sense of foreboding” as a result of her evening with Boris?
Chapter Thirty-One
6. Explain the effect that the fear of surveillance had on both German citizens in general and the Dodd family in particular. In your opinion, were their fears justified?
Chapter Thirty-Two
7. Describe the growing tension between Röhm and Hitler. What position had Röhm hoped to acquire? What action did Hitler take to curtail Röhm’s ambition? How did Röhm respond?
Chapter Thirty-Three
8. What does the extent of the Nazi party’s anger about the mock trial being held in New York reveal about their sensitivity to foreign public opinion?
9. In their adamant demands that the United States government shut down the mock trial, what fundamental American right did the Nazis fail to grasp?
10. Why was Dodd asked to meet with Hitler?
11. Who did Hitler blame for the Nazi propaganda being distributed in the United States? Why is his argument illogical?
12. By the end of his meeting with Hitler, what did Dodd realize about Hitler’s intention regarding the Jewish population of Germany and his protestations that he sought peace with other nations?
13. How did Secretary Hull respond to Germany’s outrage over the mock trial?
14. What reason did R. Walton Moore give for the government’s reluctance to adopt a resolution condemning the Nazis for their persecution of Jewish citizens? How do you think the United States should have responded?
Chapter Thirty-Four
15. Why was Diels increasingly afraid? How did he ask Martha to help him? How did she respond?
Chapter Thirty-Five
16. Explain how Hitler intended to use his praise of Roosevelt to elicit a response that would make it appear that Roosevelt and Hitler were ideological equals. How did Hull and Phillips avoid this rhetorical “trap?”
17. What did Dodd hope to accomplish by giving his speech criticizing the policies and practice of the Foreign Service and its “Pretty Good Club?” What effect did his speech have on Phillips and Moffat?
Chapter Thirty-Six
18. Why did Messersmith agree to help Diels?
19. What was the result of Messersmith’s intervention on Diels’s behalf?
20. Explain the secret deal that Hitler made with Blomberg.
21. How did the Gestapo change after the departure of Diels?
Chapter Thirty-Seven
22. What did the message from Soviet intelligence reveal about their intentions regarding Martha Dodd? Do you think Boris was aware of their intention prior to this message? Why or why not?
Chapter Thirty-Eight
23. Summarize the criticism leveled against Dodd in Fortune magazine. Do you agree with the position taken in the article?
24. How had the mood in Berlin changed during Dodd’s absence? What factors do you think contributed to this change in atmosphere?
Part Six – Berlin at Dusk
Chapter Thirty-Nine
1. Why did Messersmith leave his post in Germany?
2. What did Bella Fromm learn about Röhm’s position within the Nazi party?
3. What was the purpose of the dinner party hosted by Regendanz? Which two prominent men did he invite? What was the result of their dinner conversation?
4. Why did the Regendanz dinner become infamous?
5. What surprising opinions did Dieckhoff express to Dodd? How did Dodd respond?
Chapter Forty
6. What was the purpose of the Reich Literary Chamber?
7. Summarize the two ways that German writers responded to Hitler’s ascension to power.
8. Why did Mildred Harnack and Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt question Fallada’s decision to remain in Germany? What do you think Fallada should have done?
9. Describe the change that took place regarding Martha’s opinion of the Nazi party. How did she express her dissatisfaction with Nazi ideology?
Chapter Forty-One
10. What ominous sign did the Dodds notice in Bendlerstrasse? What do you think this event might foreshadow?
Chapter Forty-Two
11. Why did Göring invite the foreign ambassadors to his home? What can you infer about him based on his behavior at his “open house?”
12. Explain why you agree or disagree with British ambassador Phipps’s assessment of Göring.
Chapter Forty-Three
13. Describe the circumstances that led to Vice-Chancellor Papen giving the speech criticizing the Nazi regime. Whose idea was the speech? Why did Papen agree to read it in spite of his own misgivings?
14. How did President Hindenburg, the international community, and the German people respond to Papen’s speech? What steps did Goebbels take to prevent the distribution ofthe speech?
15. Why do you think Papen was able to avoid being punished for publicly criticizing Hitler?
Chapter Forty-Four
16. What happened to Edgar Jung as a result of his involvement in the Marburg speech?
17. Why do you think Göring warned Diels to “watch himself for the next few days?”
Chapter Forty-Five
18. What was Martha Dodd’s purpose for visiting the Soviet Union? Why might this visit have been a bad idea considering her father’s position?
19. What details does the author use to create a tense mood in this chapter? What are the various “storms” that you think are brewing both in Germany and in the U.S.?
Chapter Forty-Six
20. Summarize the various events that convinced Hitler that he needed to take immediate action to “stamp down mercilessly” the rebels he viewed as potential instigators of a second revolution.
21. As Hitler prepared and launched his putsch, what was the mood within the Dodd household?
Part Seven – When Everything Changed
Chapter Forty-Seven
1. Describe the coordinated attack Hitler, Göring and Goebbels launched against their “enemies.” Did anyone seem to suspect what happened? Who were their main targets? What do you think they hoped to achieve?
2. When did Dodd learn about the events of Saturday, June 30, 1934? What was his immediate concern?
Chapter Forty-Eight
3. Describe the mood in Berlin when Martha and Boris returned to the Tiergartenstrasse.
4. Why would it have been an ominous sign to see only SS officers and members of Göring’s police force outside of Röhm’s house?
5. Why was Dodd worried bout Papen’s safety?
Chapter Forty-Nine
6. Analyze Göring’s attitude and behavior during his press conference. What message do you think his performance was intended to convey?
7. What reason did Göring give for the mass arrests and assassinations?
8. After the purge, how far did the official Nazi tally of death differ from other estimates? Why do you think there is such a large discrepancy?
9. Larson includes details about the circumstances surrounding some of the confirmed deaths. What do these details suggest about the Nazi’s methodology?
10. How did Hanfstaengl avoid being executed?
Chapter Fifty
11. What does the fact that there was only “ordinary news” in German papers following the purge suggest about the Nazi’s control of the media and use of propaganda?
12. Why did Dodd attempt to visit Papen? Do you think Dodd’s presence made a difference in the fate of the Papen family?
13. What does the fact that Rohm was given an opportunity to kill himself during the purge suggest about Hitler’s feelings regarding Rohm and his execution?
14. What action did Defense Minister Blomberg announce after the purge? Why was this action pivotal in the consolidation of Hitler’s power?
Chapter Fifty-One
15. Explain the contrast between the concerns of Moffat and Hull and the concerns of ambassador Dodd? What reality did Moffat and Hull fail to grasp?
16. How did the events of June 30, 1934, change Martha’s perception of Nazi Germany? How did they change Dodd?
17. Do you think Dodd should have resigned at this point? Why or why not? What do you think would have happened if he had?
Chapter Fifty-Two
18. How did the actions of the French, British, and American ambassadors foreshadow their country’s future relationships with each other and with Nazi Germany?
19. In his speech, what “evidence” did Hitler give to justify the necessity of his use of his
force? Was there any evidence to support his allegations about the Regendanz dinner?
20. Who was the only American official to publicly criticize Hitler’s actions? How did the Roosevelt administration respond? Why do you think they responded this way?
21. What did Dodd hope would happen after the Röhm purge and President Hindenburg’s death? What happened instead?
22. What role did propaganda play in the German public’s perception of the events of the purge?
23. What did Dodd find ironic about the way that people treated dogs and horses in Nazi Germany?
Chapter Fifty-Three
24. Why was the NKVD interested in recruiting Martha? What role did Boris play in her “recruitment?”
25. What could the use of the code name “Juliet #2” for Martha Dodd suggest?
26. At what point do you think Boris began thinking of Martha Dodd as a potential recruit?
27. Do you think Martha would make a good spy? Why or why not?
Chapter Fifty-Four
28. List the America officials that Dodd tried to warn about Hitler’s ambitions and the potential threat posed by Nazi Germany. How did they respond?
29. What action did Dodd feel America should take?
30. What action did Dodd personally take in regards to Hitler’s Third Reich? How did Phillips and Moffat respond to Dodd’s actions?
31. What decision did Dodd make about resigning from his position as ambassador?
32. What request did Dodd make to President Roosevelt regarding his future as ambassador to Germany? Once Dodd returned to his post in Berlin, what news did he receive from Secretary Hull?
33. How did Boris and Martha’s relationship end? What did Martha fail to realize about Boris?
Chapter Fifty-Five
34. How did the tone of Dodd’s speeches about the threat posed by Hitler change after he ended his tenure as ambassador?
35. What personal tragedies did Dodd face after returning to the United States?
36. How was news of Dodd’s illness reported in the German newspaper? What does this response suggest about the Nazi’s perception of Dodd?
37. Who succeeded Dodd as ambassador to Germany? How did he differ from Dodd in the way he interacted with Hitler and other Nazi officials?
38. After his death, how did his colleagues remember Dodd? How do you think he should be remembered?
1. What happened to Martha Dodd after she returned to America? How did her experiences in Berlin shape the remainder of her life? Do you think she had any regrets?
writing prompts
1. Erik Larson begins his book with the following quote from Dante: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” All of us have faced situations where we were deceived by something or someone. Think critically about a time in your own life when you or someone you know was misled. In retrospect, were there warning signs? What led to the point where you “came to” and recognized the situation for what it was? Based on this experience, why do you think people sometimes allow themselves to be manipulated or deceived? How could you keep from being misled in the future?
2. In “Das Vorspiel,” Larson writes: “That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside all we know—now—to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.” How important is objectivity for a writer or teacher? Why would a book about Ambassador Dodd be particularly challenging to write? How important is objectivity for a student of history? At what points during your reading did you find it difficult to remain objective?
3. Before Dodd arrived in Germany, Consul General Messersmith hoped that the new ambassador would be “a man of forceful character capable of projecting America’s interest and power, for power was all that Hitler and his men understood.” Do you believe that Messersmith was correct in his assessment? Compare Dodd to Messersmith’s description of an ideal ambassador and debate whether or not you feel Dodd was ultimately successful in projecting American interests and ideals.
4. One of Martha’s friends compared her to Scarlett O’Hara, a woman who was adept at charming men. Indeed, Martha appears to have possessed the ability to attract the attention of many powerful and influential men. Analyze Martha as a character. Do you find her admirable in any way? In what specific ways did she defy traditional expectations about gender roles? Do you think she should be considered a feminist? Would she have considered herself a feminist? What qualities made her so alluring to the men she encountered? What do you think motivated Martha to become involved with so many men? What did she get out of the relationships?
5. In a letter to Rabbi Wise about Germany’s persecution of the Jews, Dodd wrote: “Of course you know our Government cannot intervene in such domestic matters. All one can do is present the American point of view and stress the unhappy consequences of such a policy as has been pursued.” Dodd elaborated on his position in a letter to Roosevelt: “Fundamentally, I believe a people has a right to govern itself and other peoples must exercise patience even when cruelties and injustices are done.” Do you agree with Dodd? Debate whether or not the U.S. government has the right or responsibility to intervene in the domestic policies of other nations.
6. Undersecretary Philips criticized Dodd for his disapproval of the Nazi party. According to Philips, “an Ambassador, who is a privileged guest of the country to which he is accredited, should be careful not to give public expression to anything in the nature of criticism of his adopted country, because in so doing, he loses ipso facto the confidence of those very public officials whose good-will is so important to him in the success of his mission.” Research the origin and meaning of the word diplomacy. Do you think that Dodd’s response to Hitler was appropriate for a diplomat? How should America respond to regimes that we do not support or agree with? On a personal level, have you ever been in a situation where it was difficult to remain diplomatic? What did you do? What was the result of your actions?
topics for further discussion
1. The book contains numerous description of anti-Semitic remarks made by U.S. officials. Students may be surprised to learn how widespread anti-Semitic sentiment has been in America. Research the history of anti-Semitism and other stereotypes in the United States and write a paper discussing the role that it has played in a particular U.S. foreign policy decision. You may wish to include examples of historical political cartoons in your discussion.
2. Upon Dodd’s death Roosevelt wrote, “Knowing his passion for historical truth and his rare ability to illuminate the meanings of history, his passing is a real loss to the nation.” Throughout his tenure as ambassador, Dodd used historical allegory to frame his understanding of the actions of Hitler’s regime: a perspective that eventually allowed him to correctly predict the threat that the Nazis posed to the rest of the world. Choose a current event that you feel has a historical precedent and research the similarities between the two. Use your understanding to predict a possible outcome and/or solution
for the current situation.
3. Choose one of the many historical figures listed in the glossary and research their complete biography. How did the events of World War II impact the rest of their life? What legacy are they known for?
4. Research the time that elapsed between Dodd’s departure from Berlin and America’s decision to enter Word War II. At what point did France, England, Italy, and Spain enter the war? Why did America refrain from engaging in the conflict for so long? How did public opinion about American involvement in the war change over time? What caused America to enter the war?
5. Dodd considered himself a “Jeffersonian Democrat.” Research the history of Jeffersonian democracy. What are the core beliefs of this political philosophy? Do you believe it is relevant in today’s political discourse? Which current or recent candidate do you feel most closely embodies a Jeffersonian Democrat? List specific positions taken by that candidate and explain how they align to Jeffersonian ideals.
6. During the rally in Nuremberg, the mayor presented Hitler with Albrecht Durer’s famous print “Knight, Death, and the Devil.” Examine the way that the Nazis used art and music as propaganda. Research a composer or artist (like Durer) that Hitler approved of and promoted and present examples of their work to your class. Explain the message that the Nazi party hoped to convey through the art or music. Alternately, you may research an artist, writer, or musician that Hitler banned and discuss why their work was considered “dangerous” to Hitler’s agenda.
7. Ambassador Dodd concluded his speech “Economic Nationalism” with the following observation: “No system which implies control of society by privilege seekers has ever ended any other way than collapse.” Relate Dodd’s observation to the current debate about the distribution of political power and the influence of private financing and special interest groups in American politics. Explain whether or not you feel Dodd’s comment is relevant to our current political landscape.
8. Dodd felt frustrated by what he viewed as the extravagant lifestyles of his colleagues in Foreign Service. According to Dodd, an American in foreign service should “be required to live within his salary,” “know the history and customs of his host country,” and “think of their country’s interests, not so much about a different suit of clothes each day or sitting up at gay but silly dinners every night.” Research the current requirements for working in Foreign Service. What type of person do you think would make an ideal ambassador? Would you ever consider a career in Foreign Service? Explain why or why
9. There is an ongoing debate about the United States government’s use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Consider the current debate in light of the following quote by Gestapo director Diels: “The infliction of physical punishment is not every man’s job, and naturally we were only too prepared to recruit men that showed no squeamishness at their task . . . it was only after a number of instances of unnecessary flogging and meaningless cruelty that I tumbled to the fact that my organization had been attracting all the sadists in Germany and Austria . . . . It had actually been creating sadists. For it
seems that corporal chastisement ultimately arouses sadistic leanings in apparently normal men and women.” Research studies (e.g., the Milgram experiment) that look at the psychological impact of techniques that require a subject to inflict physical pain on another person. Explain whether the studies support or refute Diels’s assertion.
10. Counterfactual history is an exercise that seeks to demonstrate the relative importance of a single historical event by contemplating a scenario where that event did not occur or happened differently. The narrative of In the Garden of Beasts is filled with moments where the course of history could have been altered. Choose a moment in the book that you consider significant and make a researched speculation about how a change at that
moment would have altered the course of history.
other books by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White
City: Murder, Magic, and
Madness at the Fair that
Changed America

Isaac’s Storm
: A Man,
a Time, and the Deadliest
Hurricane in History
other titles of interest
Resisting Hitler: Mildred
Harnack and the Red
Shareen Blair Brysac
Hitler: A Study in Tyranny
Alan Bullock
Through Embassy Eyes
Martha Dodd
Ambassador Dodd’s Diary
Martha and Bill Jr. Dodd
Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris
Ian Kershaw
Travels in the Reich, 1933–
1945: Foreign Authors Report
from Germany
Oliver Lubrich
Red Orchestra: The Story of
the Berlin Underground and
the Circle of Friends Who
Resisted Hitler
Anne Nelson
The Rise and Fall of the
Third Reich
William Shirer
Spies: The Rise and Fall of
the KGB in America
Alexander Vassiliev,
John Earl Haynes,
and Harvey Klehr
The Lucifer Effect:
Understanding How Good
People Turn Evil
Philip Zimbardo
online author resources
Author website: http://eriklarsonbooks.com/
NPR Interview with Erik Larson about In the Garden of Beasts:
other online resources:
U.S. State Department’s website for Foreign Service: http://careers.state.gov/
Florida Center for Instructional Technology’s teaching guide on the Holocaust: Includes
information on arts, literature, and music promoted and banned by the Nazi party.
National Endowment for the Humanities website: Includes numerous resources and
primary documents related to World War II. http://edsitement.neh.gov/
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website: Has links to resources on
Anti-Semitism and a timeline of WWII. http://www.ushmm.org/
PBS Website for The American Experience America and the Holocaust: Features links to several primary documents related to the book.
Americans in Foreign Service:
William E. Dodd—American ambassador to Germany. Former history professor at the University of Chicago
Martha (Mattie) Dodd—Dodd’s wife
William Jr. (Bill)—Dodd’s son
Martha Dodd—Dodd’s daughter
George Messersmith—consul general for Germany
Raymond Geist—vice consul for Germany
George Gordon—counselor of the American embassy in Germany
Henry Leverich—American vice consul in Leipzig
John C. White—replaced George Gordon as counselor of embassy
Orme Wilson—secretary of embassy
Americans Citizens Attacked by Nazis:
Samuel Bossard
Harold Dahlquist
H.V. Kaltenborn
Daniel Mulvihill
Joseph Schachno
Roland Velz
Philip Zuckerman
United States Government Officials:
William C. Bullitt—former ambassador to Russia
Wilbur J. Carr—Assistant Secretary of State
John Hickerson—State Department official
Colonel Edward House—friend and advisor of Roosevelt
Secretary Cordell Hull—Secretary of State
General Hugh Johnson—administrator of the National Recovery Administration
Douglas MacArthur—Army Chief of Staff
Colonel D. W. MacCormack—Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization
Jay Pierrepont Moffat—Chief of Western European affairs
R. Walton Moore—Assistant Secretary of State and friend of Dodd
William Phillips—Undersecretary of State, later ambassador to Italy
Franklin Roosevelt—president of the United States
Secretary Daniel Roper—Secretary of Commerce
Millard E. Tydings—U.S. senator who tried unsuccessfully to introduce a resolution
condemning the Nazi’s persecution of Jews
Sumner Welles—Assistant Secretary of State and confidant of Roosevelt
Hugh Wilson—American diplomat who coined the term “Pretty Good Club”
Woodrow Wilson—former president of the United States
Men that Turned Down the Ambassador Position:
Newton Baker—Secretary of War under Woodrow Wilson
James M. Cox—former presidential candidate
Edward J. Flynn—key figure in the Democratic Party
Owen D. Young—prominent businessman
Men Romantically Linked to Martha Dodd:
George Bassett Roberts—New York banker and Martha’s first husband
Armand Berard—third secretary of the French embassy
James Burnham—briefly engaged to Martha
Max Delbrück—biophysicist who went on to win the Nobel Prize
Rudolf Diels—Nazi part official and first chief of the Gestapo
Prince Louis Ferdinand—son of Germany’s crown prince
H. R. Knickerbocker—correspondent for the New York Evening Post
Quentin Reynolds—correspondent for the Hearst News Service
W. L. River—American novelist
Heinrich Rochold—embassy employee fired due to speculation that he was spying for the Nazis
Carl Sandburg—American writer
Royall Henderson Snow—English professor at Ohio State. Briefly engaged to Martha.
Alfred Stern—Martha’s second husband
Ernst Udet—famous German flying ace from World War I
Thornton Wilder—American writer
Boris Winogradov—employed by the Soviet embassy and, secretly, an operative for Soviet intelligence
Thomas Wolfe—American writer
German Government and Nazi Party Officials:
Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff—senior foreign ministry official under Hindenburg
Theodor Eicke—SS officer who codified regulations for the operation of concentration camps
Karl Ernst—head of the Berlin division of the SA
Joseph Goebbels—Minister of Propaganda
Hermann Göring—commander of the German air force
“Putzi” Hanfstaengl—Nazi foreign press chief and confidant of Hitler
Rudolf Hess—deputy leader to Hitler
Reinhard Heydrich—chief of the Gestapo after the departure of Diels
Heinrich Himmler—commander of the SS
Adolf Hitler—chancellor of Germany
Rudolf Höss—Commandant at Auschwitz and protégé of Eicke
Edgar Jung—speechwriter for Vice-Chancellor Paper
Hans Luther—German ambassador to the United States
Viktor Lutze—SA officer loyal to Hitler who reported Röhm
Herbert Packebusch—captain in the SS
Admiral Eric Raeder—head of the German navy
Captain Ernst Röhm—commander of the SA
General Schleicher—former Chancellor and Minister of Defense under Hindenburg
Martin Sommerfeldt—press adjutant to Göring
Hans Thomsen—foreign ministry liaison
General Werner von Blomberg—Minister of Defense
General Werner von Fritsch—chief of German army command
Paul von Hindenburg—president of Germany
Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath—Minister of Foreign Affairs
Franz von Papen—Vice-Chancellor
Fritz von Tschirschky—secretary to Vice-Chancellor Papen
Other Germans:
Rudolf Ditzen “Hans Fallada”—German novelist
Bella Fromm “Auntie Voss”—society columnist for a Berlin newspaper
Hans Gisevius—Gestapo memoirist
Fritz Haber—Jewish chemist and winner of the Nobel Prize
Victor Klemperer—Jewish philologist living in Berlin
Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt—friend of the Harnack’s
Alfred Panofsky—wealthy Jewish banker in Germany who rented his home to the Dodds
Anna Rath—young Aryan woman attacked for her decision to marry her Jewish fiancé
Walter Rathenau—former Foreign Minister of Germany, assassinated in 1922
Wilhelm Regendanz—wealthy banker who threw the fateful dinner party with
François-Poncet and Röhm
Hjalmar Schacht—head of Germany’s national bank
Wera “Poulette” von Huhn—German newspaper columnist
Jewish Leaders in America:
Judge Irving Lehman
Henry Morgenthau Jr.
Judge Joseph Proskauer
Lewis. L. Strauss
Felix Warburg
Rabbi Stephen S. Wise
Frederick BirchallNew York Times reporter
Wilhelm Bünger—presiding judge in the Reichstag arson trial
Vittorio Cerruti—Italian ambassador to Germany
Georgi Dimitrov—defendant in the Reichstag arson trial
Andre François-Poncet—French ambassador to Germany
Arvid Harnack—Mildred’s husband, secret Soviet intelligence operative
Mildred Fish Harnack—American living in Berlin and friend of Martha Dodd
Louis Lochner—Associated Press
Maxim Litvinov—Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs
Gilbert L. MacMaster—American representative of the Quakers that visited Germany
Edgar Mowrer—correspondent and author of controversial book Germany Puts the Clock Back
Sir Eric Phipps—British ambassador to Germany
Simon Popov—defendant in the Reichstag arson trial
Sigrid Schultz—correspondent for the Chicago Tribune covering Central Europe
Vassili Tanev—defendant in the Reichstag arson trial
Ernst Torgler—defendant in the Reichstag arson trial
Marinus van der Lubbe—man charged with starting the Reichstag fire
Ernst Von Salomon—accomplice in the assassination of Rathenau
common core state standards
In the Garden of Beasts Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity for most high
school grade levels. Schools are encouraged to adopt the text at the grade level where it best fits with ELA and Social Studies curriculum.
The questions and activities in the teaching guide for In the Garden of Beasts were written to support standards-based instruction and are directly linked to many of the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Social Studies. The primary areas of connection are in the ELA standards for Reading: Informational Texts for grades 11–12 and in the literacy standards for Key Ideas and Details and Craft and Structure in History/Social Studies. A complete list of the Common Core State Standards can be found at http://www.corestandards.org/thestandards.
A list of primary standards addressed in the guide can be found below:
common core standards for english language arts:
Reading: Key Ideas and Details
• Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
• Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
• Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
Reading: Craft and Structure
• Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
• Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
Comprehension and Collaboration
• Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one- on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well- reasoned exchange of ideas.
• Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
• Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.
Writing: Research to Build and Present Knowledge
• Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
• Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self- generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
literacy in history/social studies and science: 
anchor standards
Key Ideas and Details
• Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
• Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
• Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Craft and Structure
• Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
• Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
• Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
about this guide’s writer
Amy Jurskis holds a BA in English from the University of Georgia and an MAT from Agnes Scott College. She is the department chair for language arts at Tri-Cities High School, an urban public high school in southwest Atlanta.
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