National Public Radio’s Fresh Air had an interesting interview this week with journalist turned author Erik Larson; his book In the Garden of Beasts hit bookstores this week as well. In the Garden of Beasts examines early Nazi Germany, years before World War II began in earnest in the European theater. What makes the book interesting – if Teri Gross’ interview with Larson is any indication – is that it examines Nazi Germany through the eyes of American diplomat William Dodd, who was assigned to Berlin in the early 1930s.
Dodd, an historian and professor by trade and friends with both Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, eventually resigned his post after several years, having clashed repeatedly with both Nazi officials and the U.S. State Department. During his tenure he not only had a first hand look at how the Nazi Party consolidated its grip on power within Germany, but saw the beginnings of Hitler’s Final Solution – in one interview with Dodd Hitler even angrily suggested that Germany would have to “put an end” to the so-called Jewish problem, according to Larson.
Even beyond the subject manner – evil and the understanding thereof may not be easy, but it’s certainly never boring — this Fresh Air episode is worth a listen; it provides an interesting look into the process of writing history and nonfiction as well. It sounds as if Larson has exhaustively researched Dodd and the period for In the Garden of Beasts.
In addition to excerpts from the interview, NPR’s site also has an excerpt from the book. I think I’m going to have to add this to my ever-growing pile of books to read. Reading nonfiction, particularly history, can be painfully dry, but Larson’s books have many more good reviews than not, so I’ll soon see if I agree.
Besides, I have to help support a fellow ex-journalist who has turned to writing what he wants for a living, don’t I? You can find out more about Erik Larson at his website; and then there is Larson’s Wikipedia page.