June 2014Volume 5Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Book review

I have found being a senior lawyer has many advantages, including the smoother running of your practice if you are still in practice, more time for yourself if you have retired or reduced your work time, and the launching of any children in their own careers and lives. It can also mean more time to read for pleasure.

Therefore, as a part of this newsletter, and, hopefully, many future ones, book reviews will be offered about books thought to be of interest to those of us who can now find the time to do more outside reading.

Obviously, this is not meant to compete with Oprah’s book selections; however, it is intended to present a mix of both fiction and non-fiction books of interest to this reviewer and available in paperback and eBooks.

It is also the intent to have other ISBA members send suggestions of books they would recommend to others through this newsletter with a brief description of the book. These suggestions can be e-mailed to g.rafool@comcast.net, or faxed to Gary Rafool at 309-673-5537.

Finally, any comments concerning these reviews would be very much appreciated to help direct the content of future reviews.

With this in mind, the first book chosen is titled In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, who many might remember was the author of the 2003 best seller Devil in the White City about the 1893 Chicago World Fair. It is a 2011 book available in paperback and eBooks. A garden of the beasts, by the way, is a term used by Germans to describe a zoo, which does have meaning in this book.

The story takes place in Berlin starting in mid-1933, with the appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of William E. Dodd as the United States Ambassador to Germany. This, of course, was the time when the Nazi Party had been elected and Adolph Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, with almost complete power due to the illness of the Kaiser.

At the time of his appointment, Dodd was the chairman of the history department of the University of Chicago, and he achieved academic recognition because of his works about Woodrow Wilson. He and his family lived in Chicago’s Hyde Park Area, but his real love was his farm and United States’ southern history.

In 1897, Dodd studied in Germany where he received a doctorate from the University of Leipzig. Although he was an accomplished historian, Dodd had no experience in the State Department, nor was he a part of the “good old boys” network within it. He was, therefore, considered a political outsider, who had no family wealth or connections. This situation haunted his entire time as Ambassador.

Consequently, Dodd was not a first or even second, third, etc. choice for Roosevelt’s appointment. It appears that he was appointed as the German Ambassador simply because no one else wanted this position due to the then known cruel nature of the Nazi Regime and its hold on Germany.

The reader is taken through the daily life of Dodd, his wife, adult daughter and adult son while living in Berlin.

The book also discusses the difficulties and burdens Dodd’s family encountered in their attempts to entertain as was expected of diplomats at that time, who primarily used personal—but more likely family—money, neither of which Dodd had.

While certain atrocities in Germany were known during this time to the Roosevelt Administration and its State Department, they did not want to hear Dodd’s protests. Rather, it appears that they wanted Dodd to pursue the collection of the German World War I debts to the United States as one of his primary duties.

Dodd’s daughter was rather flamboyant and some even said promiscuous because of her various affairs, including one with Carl Sandburg. Originally, she failed, or refused, to believe the bad things taking place in Germany while her family was there; however, she eventually experienced some of these events, including the dire consequences of just failing to give the “Heil Hitler” salute when any one of the many parades passed by.

Because of Dodd’s public outcry against the situations taking place in Germany, and because he was unable to collect Germany’s war debt, President Roosevelt relieved him of his duties as Ambassador to Germany at the end of 1937.

Although the facts in this book are true, the author’s writing style reads more like an interesting novel than as a work of non-fiction, and its 360-plus pages become very difficult to stop reading. ■

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