Friday, May 13, 2011

Erik Larson

Erik Larson's new book is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin: The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

From Larson's Q & A with Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn:

Q. Did you want to write about the Dodds, or the period they lived through? How did you find them?

A. It was five-six years ago. I was hard up for an idea — I'm always hard up for an idea, until I get one. I was browsing the history section at the Barnes & Noble [University Village]. I bought "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer with some trepidation — it is quite long (1,264 pages). Shirer was in Berlin in the 1930s as a radio correspondent. Reading and realizing that he'd been there, I thought: What would it have been like to go to a party and meet [Nazi leader Hermann] Goering?

Then I came across William E. Dodd's diary at Suzzallo Library [at the University of Washington]. I found Martha's (Dodd's daughter) memoir, and Bella Fromm's (a Jewish journalist who eventually fled Germany). I wondered: How does a culture slip its moorings, to go from the freewheeling Weimar culture to this dark, claustrophobic regime? Why did it take so long for people to take on Hitler?

Q. What drew you to Dodd, a University of Chicago historian who wound up as the American ambassador to Nazi Germany?

A. I liked the fact that Dodd was a completely unlikely candidate for his position. ... He wanted this cush job so he could...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue