Dodd, a Democrat from North Carolina, is seeking a change from his professorship at the University of Chicago to finish his book series on the Old South. Franklin D. Roosevelt is seeking for someone to fill the position of ambassador to Germany and is having difficulty finding anyone who will accept it. He approaches Dodd, who accepts the position so he can have one last time with his entire family: his wife; his son, Bill, Jr.; and his daughter, Martha (who is in the midst of divorcing her husband). The family sails to Germany and establishes themselves in a luxury hotel in Berlin. Dodd gives himself the mission to convince America that the bleak picture the press has painted of Nazi Germany is inaccurate, that in fact the people are pleasant and the country is beautiful. Martha meets Sigrid Schultz, an American correspondent, who gives Martha a negative view of Germany under the Nazis. Martha cannot agree with Schultz based on what she observes and the people she meets. George Bassett, her husband, arrives in Berlin and agrees to a divorce.
Dodd is torn between his desire to view Germany positively and his intention to intercede for the Jews in the midst of their persecution. He hears of some American citizens, like Philip Zuckerman, who are beaten by the Nazis. Consul General Messersmith is frustrated at Dodd's rosy view of Germany. Martha meets some highly placed Nazis, such as Gestapo Chief Rudolf Diels. The most highly placed Nazi is Ernst Hanfstaengl, commonly called "Putzi.".
The Nazis have targeted another correspondent, Edgar Mowrer; they want him out of the country. Mowrer asks Dodd to intercede for him so he can remain, but Dodd tells him he has no wish to get mixed up in Germany's affairs. A scientist named Fritz Haber requests Dodd's help to get him out of Germany. Dodd hesitates, and Haber manages to get to England. He later dies in Switzerland of heart complications.