This is a riveting, suspenseful account of the run up to Nazi rule in Germany. We meet William Dodd, an unassuming, academic who was tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to become the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1933-34 as Hitler was rising to power. Dodd was clearly an outsider in diplomatic circles. He was a not rich, deplored the ostentatious show of wealth expected of diplomats, and was a Jeffersonian Democrat – meaning he was opposed to anything that smacked of elitism or aristocracy. He drove not a Mercedes but a Chevrolet.
He arrived in Berlin with his wife, and adult children, Martha and Bill. Martha was beautiful, adventurous, and a great favorite among the men in Hitler’s circle. She enjoyed life in beautiful Berlin, attended receptions and parties, had many affairs with powerful and dangerous men, and turned a blind – or perhaps a naïve – eye to the occasional violence and brewing war spirit in Germany.
This story tells of the growing terror settling among the German people - academics, Hitler’s political enemies, Jews, and other so-called undesirables. But it is the story of the Dodd family and most particularly, Martha, that is at the center of this slice of history. Through Martha’s eyes, we see one of the most terrifying downslides of a civilized country in modern history, and the gradual erosion of her approval. The party was over. She went on to support the Soviets, owing in part to a love affair with a Russian spy.
There are at least 50 pages of notes at the end of the book, attesting to the thoroughness of the author’s research. This should be of no surprise to fans of Erik Larson. He is an unflinching narrator of some of the modern history’s most notorious disasters and crimes. He always manages to put a human face on these horrors and brings out the little-known stories that make the larger narrative so compelling.