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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History Paperback – September 17, 2010
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About the Author
Robert Edsel began his career in the oil and gas exploration business. In 1996 he moved to Europe to pursue his interests in the arts. Settling in Florence seeing some of the great works, he wondered how all of the monuments and art treasures survived the devastation of World War II. During the ensuing years, he devoted himself to finding the answer. In the process, he commissioned major research that has resulted in this book. Robert also coproduced the related documentary film, The Rape of Europa, and cowrote Rescuing Da Vinci, a photographic history of an art heist of epic proportions and the Allied rescue effort. The author lives in Dallas.
Bret Witter cowrote the bestseller Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (Grand Central, 2008). He lives in Louisville, KY.
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From 1939 to the end of World War II, the Nazis Army seized priceless paintings, sculptures, tapestries and other artworks from museum, palaces, cathedrals and private homes. The Nazi plundered everything and carted it off to Germany. The Allied Forces created a group called the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Art and Archives) Division. This group consisted of men and women who were curators, archivists, art historians and artist. Their job was to find and return the art to its owners.
The book is well written and researched. Edsel examined family letters and records, museum and church archives and even the Nazi archives. The book got off to a slow start but the ending was much more interesting. Sometimes it read like a detective story. I found the repetitiveness very annoying. I found the story interesting but the way the book was written just did not grab me as I felt it should. It is a hard thing to explain. I am only going to give this book a three rating instead of a four because the author never managed to obtain that something to make the book great. The book was 468 pages. I read the e-book on my Kindle app for my iPad.
The book pretty much ensures that a reader will both understand the logistical difficulties (no actual unit, no access to transportation, constantly having to ask other military personnel for help), the danger (booby-trapped caches of loot, dank salt mines filled with art and explosives, German soldier ambush), and the heroic nature of the Monument Men's job (especially those who worked in Germany and had to reconcile risk to life and limb to save cultural heritage sites like Aachen Cathedral after touring devastating places like Dachau).
What an incredible job they did. What incredible people who believed so passionately in art that they would endure war conditions to attempt to save what the Nazis looted or destroyed.
A pleasant surprise for me was learning about the handful of Monument Men the book focuses on through both biography and letters. I particularly enjoyed learning about Lincoln Kirstein (my name doppelganger) who I thought mostly of as a ballet guy, but who turned out to be more of a Renaissance man in his abilities and proclivities than I had understood. But the others focused on this book (Rorimer, Ettlinger, Posey, Stout, etc) also come alive in their individuality, their specialities, and their connections to Europeans and family back home.
Of course, I couldn't help feeling like the author maybe presented the Monuments Men in their best possible light. George Stout is almost saint-like in his expertise, desire to save German monuments, and empathy for the victims of war.
And at times, for me (who is not a World War II history buff or veteran) the dwelling on various troop movements and battles was a bit much. I yearned for more descriptions of the actual finding of the artwork, but that could be a bit of a personal preference.
Quite interesting look at World War II that's definitely worth a look if you enjoyed the movie. Certainly gives some perspective to some of the movie characters.
Edsel covers much ground in the hunt to uncover the pieces of art that occurred in France, Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. He does a good job to outline each of the important individuals that were a part of the Monuments Men, which ranged from established and distinguishable persons that were experts in their field of museum and historical preservation and they came from all over the world. Deanne Keller and Frederick Hart and George Stout, Rose Valland, and Robert Posey from America, John Bryan Ward-Perkins from England, and the hundreds involved. And their training such as Stout’s focused on understanding raw materials, degradation and cause of deterioration, and preparation to prevent deterioration and damage, which would be beneficial once he delved in the race against time to save the artworks. Stout applied preservation and conservation and scientific principles to paintings and visual art. However, the Monuments were a different unit from the rest of the forces that served in Europe due to their backgrounds and the resources that they were and were not provided, they served as only advisors and could not impose any orders on any official or rank, and they had limited access to vehicles, offices, support staff, and any back up plans. In essence, they were a unique group in the war.
After reading the Monuments Men, one may have a better appreciation for this part of history. The format of the book provided a great scope of information and visual presentation, which alternated between stories of the Monuments and the origins and the events related to the Third Reich plans and up to the discovery of the artworks. For the Kindle edition, maps may have been helpful and the photographs may have been dispersed within each chapter rather than at the end of the book.
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As World War II booms, mens lives are ripped away and the world hangs on the edge, wondering if the world of Nazism has...Read more