I only read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin last year.
This is one of the books that has contributed to my World War 2 burn out. When I compare this to other books I have read by Larson, this is actually one of the weaker books. It goes deep into political details of what it was like to be an ambassador for the US in the 1940s. It gave me a new appreciation for the fine line Dodd and other ambassadors have to play in preserving good relationships with the countries they live in.
Having read this and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania so close together in time, it provided me with a comparison of two points in history. One on hand, Larson has to look hard to find a new angle on World War 2. Yes, Dodd’s time as ambassador is not something we often consider when we talk about Nazi Germany. It is part of a larger story that we know well. Most WW2 authors have to find a good niche to write about because the genre is so over burdened. He discussed connected issues and I knew these things already from other books.
Meanwhile, Larson could have written more about the Lusitania and never run into another book that covers the same time period. I finished this book and was hungry for more. I had questions that he had not answered. I spent more time following up with Wikipedia to learn more than I have with most other micro-history books. I was enthralled because there was so much I had never read about before. Also, a ship sinks in the ocean, but that’s really a short part of the story.
The other comparison is that very climax. There is no real climax in Garden of Beasts. It’s a story that ends before the war barely gets started. We are not building to some climax. Yes, you could argue that the climax was Hitler’s decision to openly acknowledge his plans for Jews, homosexuals, communists, and other marginalized groups. That just doesn’t have the same impact as a torpedo hitting a ship so close to the end of it’s journey. It feels different. Even Devil in the White City had the climax of the World’s Fair happening.
These books are interesting looks at a writers process. Lusitania was not a project Larson had been looking for, but one that found him. I know how that happens and how you feel compelled to write when it does. I think, as a reader, I like it more when that happens. The excitement of the author often flows through the story and the readers catch it. Actually, that may be what happened with Twilight. You can sense the author’s excitement and energy as you read the book and it infects you.
I hope Larson’s next book gives that to his readers again.