Erik Larson

The rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany might not seem a fresh or remotely topical subject for Erik Larson in his In the Garden of Beasts, but he scales the story down to a parlor-room level. His protagonist, William E. Dodd, is a fairly unremarkable, mid-level academic when freshly-elected FDR appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Germany. There, Hitler kisses the hand of Dodd’s promiscuous, left-leaning daughter; and the polite historian gradually awakes to what’s happening in the present moment. Hitler, in 1933, still had Nazi rivals for power—most of whom the Dodds also met or entertained. Both the ambassador and his daughter kept good diaries, upon which Larson builds his slow-boil account. Late in his term, noting the putsches and purges around him, Dodd writes of the child- and animal-loving German volk, suddenly grown so violent, “One might easily wish he were a horse.” BRIAN MILLER

Thu., July 7, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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