In the Garden of the Beasts
The book club members at April’s “couples” dinner meeting seemed to fall into distinct camps. There were a few history buffs that actually enjoyed reading, Erik Larson’s The Garden of the Beasts. There was the opposite crowd – the majority, I hear — who struggled to get through the book. And, then there was the camp I fell in, “not great, not horrible.” Many in this “just ok” camp who spoke up at the meeting had read Larson’s Devil in the White City, and was disappointed that this latest book was not as riveting as White City, which was also a true story and meticulously documented.
About the Book
The Garden of the Beasts story centered on William Dodd, who was a professor at the University of Chicago, a product of a southern upbringing smitten with Southern history, and an unlikely choice for the ambassador to Germany in the late 1930’s as Hitler was coming to power. He was mild-mannered and a self-described “Jeffersonian Democrat.” Somewhat of a social climber, Dodd exemplified his Jefferson ideals in his attitude that citizens (and therefore himself) have a civic duty to help their country and fight corruption, and apparently he did fight aristocratic elitism as the ambassador (most notably by shipping his Chevy across the Atlantic).
Unfortunately, almost 100 years after Jefferson, Dodd’s ideals were not an attitude of equality and respect for all. What was really shocking, and why I am glad to have read the book, was how utterly rampant negative views of Jews were by Americans, and by even the so-called good guys. This is not breaking news, but this book hit a chord in me.
About Book club
My husband and I never read the same book at the same time (well, except for book club). So, to cut to the chase, the book sparked a conversation that was really meaningful and enlightening to me. The April couple’s meeting is unique in that there is the opportunity to probe into some unexplored territory with your spouse, as well as our book club members. And, that’s why I will read just about any book “assigned” by book club and why I love book club. I am just sorry more people did not have that experience this year.
So yes, we need to find the common ground amongst male and female book tastes, history and mystery buffs, avid readers and not, so more book club members and their hubbies participate. For me, it is more about the shared experience, than what book. We cannot give up!