Erik Larson's Devil in the White City is a long-time Turnrow customer favorite. Fans of the book admire how Larson spins a true story with the flair of a novelist, bringing the past to life in a way few historians can. We used Larson's book and narrative style as inspiration for our section "Creative Truths," which brings together non-fiction with a strong and artful narrative style.
We recently brought in a stack of Larson's just-released book, In the Garden of Beasts, and couldn't resist giving it a quick read. It tells the remarkable story of William Dodd, a genial, soft-spoken Midwestern professor drafted by Roosevelt to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Berlin. This is 1933, as Hitler's beasts are coming to life. Dodd brings along his wife, his son and daughter, Martha, a liberated young woman who is particularly entranced by the culture of the Third Reich and the powerful, handsome men among its ranks. Larson seizes upon the drama in the different ways they experience this tumultuous age.
What may be most interesting about Larson's depiction of this time is how quickly the civil rights of German Jews disintegrates and how indifferent the world, including the isolationist U.S., accept this political climate in Germany. His gift is capturing the sights and sounds of Berlin, as well as the claustrophobia experienced by a principled man like Dodd, living in a time and place where dissent is ruthlessly squashed and where the human decency exists on a sliding scale.
This is a powerful, evocative and fascinating work by a master of historical entertainment. Make a point to check it out this summer.