Erik Larson's new book is the story of an American family living in Germany during one of its most provocative times. William Dodd hadn’t even made the short list of candidates for Ambassador to Germany at the beginning of Roosevelt's presidency. Roosevelt had just been in office months and there had not been an Ambassador to Germany in over a year. No one wanted the job. One of Roosevelt’s insiders suggested William Dodd who was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago. He spoke fluent German and had received his doctorate in Germany.
When Dodd received the call, he was languishing in his department. He hadn’t achieved everything he had hoped and thought that this might be the pinnacle of his career. So he, his wife, adult son Bill, and adult daughter Martha, went to Berlin in 1933. His charges were to lay low, not cause trouble, avoid the "Jewish problem" and try to impel the new leadership to pay back its debt from the first World War.
Before he went to Berlin, Dodd thought that the rumours of beatings and disappearances had all been, as the German government had explained, blown out of proportion. But as Americans were showing up to the consulate bloody and beaten, Dodd came to realize that things were much worse than originally thought. Washington was of little help in giving direction. But like many foreigners, Dodd did not believe that the German government, with so much in-fighting, would last for very long. He watched horrified as Hitler’s government, which in 1933 seemed unorganized and ruled by thugs, shored up its power into a war machine.
Meanwhile, daughter Martha was having the time of her life in 1930’s Berlin. She met high ranking party officials, spies of all sorts, and writers and actors. Martha was having a ball, until some of her lovers went missing or were killed. She also discovered that she was being used as a pawn for many sides. Slowly, Martha began to see the dark side of Berlin.
Covering the times from 1933 until 1938, Larson gives us what life was like for Americans in Berlin, even those with special privileges such as the Ambassador. Washington was no help to what Dodd saw. He felt very alone as what he witnessed compelled him to speak out for honor and character to no avail. What he had hoped would be a pinnacle to his career ended in pain and sadness.
Subtitled, the gilded age crime that scandalized a city & sparked the tabloid wars, Murder of the Century takes place in 1897 when body parts are found scattered in various locations throughout New York. What makes this interesting is this is the start of the tabloid wars in New York. Although William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had been trying to outdo each other for a few years, it was this murder that really ratcheted up the ante.
Both the Journal and the Herald offered reward money for information leading to the identity of the body (they put the pieces together without the head which was never found). Hearst pushed the Journal to publish more and more about every little clue. Even though some of the clues clearly had nothing to do with the murder, if they had their own sordid story, Hearst went with it. Pulitzer also tried to be first to publish the information.
The solving of the murder is here from the poor detectives who had to do their job under the watchful and following eyes of the reporters, to the courtroom antics, and the viewings at the morgue. Every day for months, people were allowed to come down to the morgue to view the body and make a guess as to whom it belonged.
The murder is solved and actually quite quickly once they get a vital clue. However, the New York papers were never the same. The largest typeface, traditionally held only for declarations of war, appeared for the most sordid stories for morning and evening reading. And in color!
This isn’t an in-depth view of yellow journalism but how one New York murder changed the way newspapers delivered the news.