on March 7, 2010
If I had written this review when I was only 25% of the way through this book, I would have given it 2 stars. The beginning of the book can only be described as plodding and in my opinion was not very well constructed. However, I hung in there and the payoff came in the remainder of the book.
The book describes an overlooked group of men and women who served during WWII to save priceless buildings and works of arts in Europe. It also describes the internal conflicts of these folks who wondered, for example, if the German people deserved the return of their Nazi-stolen art. The efforts of these dedicated service-men and -women were, naturally enough, largely overshadowed by the inarguably more important discoveries at the end of WWII, such as the truths revealed by the liberation of the concentration camps. This book is thus a wonderful contribution to an overlooked history of the time.
The end of the book describes the discovery of hidden German repositories of art; the volume and quality of art found in these hiding places is absolutely staggering. I had the pleasure of seeing Michelangelo's flawless Madonna when I was in Bruges and was riveted by her WWII story, which was not described in any detail in the materials given out by the museums there.
In summary: stick with it. The book had some problems with flow, especially in the beginning, but the payoff of the middle and ending was worth it.
on September 3, 2009
The most devastating damage and acts of looting of art objects in the annals of history took place during World War Two.These were perpetrated by the Nazi hordes ,carefully directed by the Fuhrer himself.The Nazi army was perpetually pillaging the finest art in Europe.The vain Goering and Alfred Rosenberg were among the main culprits involved in those brutal crimes against the human creative talent.
Fortunately,there was a Western Allied effort to mitigate combat damage, primarily to structures-churches,museums, and other various monuments.In the course of those brutal years, particularly during 1943-1944,the Allies paid much more attention to finding and protecting cultural items which were stolen from their owners,many of which were Jews.The bosses of the Third Reich transported more than five million cultural objects to many sites in Germany, where they hid them , hoping that one day they would not only be the masters of the world, but also the masters of art.
More than 350 men and women served as Monuments People.This number was culled from thirteen nations.In the end, only a handful of them were active and this book is their story.It was the responsibility of this group to save as much of the European culture as it could.
Mt. Edsel has been living in Florence ,Italy, in the 1990s when he wondered how so many of Europe's monuments and other works of art could have survived this unprecedented orgy of destruction.Thus, he set out to conduct a very careful process of extremely meticulous research which led him ultimately to interview those soldiers who have risked and dedicated their lives pursuing this mission.Many of them were art curators,scholars, educators, architects and archivists in their early forties.There are captivating chapters on the fate of museums in Western Europe, such those in France, Belgium,Holland and Italy.You will meet well-known paintings and the fate of them.Among these are the "Mona Lisa" and "The Night Watch".There arealso letters written by the heroes of this book to various relatives of theirs and some directives given or sent to Nazi officials.
Mr. Edsel's forte in the book is especially interesting when describing what happened during and after 1945 in Altaussee, Austria- a site where many tunnels served as sanctuaries for an enormous number of stolen works, as well as another chapter devoted to the Merkers salt mine in Germany where the largest paintings from the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin were placed for safekeeping (along Germany's gold reserve and paper currency).
We are also informed that the castle of Neuschwainstein, which was built by Mad Ludwing of Bavaria in the ninetennth century, served as a key Nazi repository of the greatest works of art stolen from France.It took the Monuments Men six whole weeks to empty it.Some of the stolen art objects belonged to the Rothschild collection in France.
This is an originally told and well-researched chapter with a happy
end, not only because of the outcome of those devoted men and women, but also because they finally got the right historian and researcher who is responsible for bringing up their extrordinary achievements, and for whom humanity shoud be more than grateful.I must warn you: once you start reading the book, you will not put it down easily.
Five points go to this book!
on June 25, 2013
One of the most enjoyable aspects to the study of history is always finding new stories. Even when you think you know a lot about a field you find something new and enjoyable. That one of the many reasons that I enjoyed Monuments Men so much. Robert Edsel has provided us with a look at an area of World War II studies that has gone virtually unnoticed for nearly 70 years. The men and women of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives) Division served an almost unknown, but incredibly valuable part in the war against the destructive evil of Nazism.
When Hitler's forces overran Europe they set about looting the national artistic treasures in a methodical manner. Priceless treasures were pillaged from the museums and galleries of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and other European nations. All property belonging to Jews were taken. Hitler's dream was to create an enormous museum that would be the envy of the entire world. Instead he launched the most destructive war in history.
The allies were aware of the cultural heritage in the areas that they would be fighting. This is why the MFAA was created. The original MFAA officers were tasked with traveling into the war zones and identifying historic sites that needed to be preserved. The stories of what these men accomplished is truly amazing. Time after time they were able to save important buildings from being destroyed.
As the book progresses we see another dimension of their work. They began to investigate the Nazi looting. Their job shifted from simply protecting buildings from destruction to locating stolen works of art. At times the book resembles an action thriller story. The theft of priceless works of art. The heroic civilians who work undercover to spy on the Nazis. The small band of men rushing from place to place to save these priceless objects.
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the subject, I enjoyed the writing, I enjoyed everything about it. Robert Edsel has done an excellent job of sharing this important story with us. Perhaps there is no greater evidence of the statement that those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. We never studied the important work of the Monuments Men. As a result the allies were not prepared when Iraq was invaded in 2003. The looting of those priceless antiquities could have been avoided by simply employing a group like the MFAA. Perhaps this book will help to raise awareness so that tragedies like the Iraq museum will not happen again.
on March 22, 2014
The material in this book is fascinating, and Edsel and his co-writer? researcher? have done their work well. I never knew about this group of men before, or of Hitler's plan to build a massive museum at Linz filled with the great art work of the world, looted from churches, museums, and private collections of Jewish collectors. Nor did I realize that there were military commanders who could be persuaded to protect designated monuments or art collections in the thick of war. The narrative of the final months of the war, with the monument men racing to find and protect caches of great art while retreating Germans tried to blow them up, is as suspenseful as any thriller.
My major criticism of this book, and the reason why I could not award the fifth star, is the actual writing, both on the sentence level and the paragraph level, even the chapter arrangements. As a retired Professor of English I was frequently reaching for my non-existent red pen (I read the book on Kindle) to make the sentence-level writing clearer, and also frequently looking back to earlier paragraphs to check on dates and events because the chronology had become confusing. I suspect Mr Edsel was originally trained as a journalist, so he follows the journalist technique of starting a chapter or section with an attention-grabbing moment and then backtracks to the events that preceded it. I found this frustrating and sometimes plain annoying.
But I must admit, despite these criticisms, I did keep reading, to the end, and it's a long book.
on February 6, 2014
I read The Monuments Men while on vacation. I LOVE historical non-fiction. It was a great story, but I recommend it with the following cautions: If you don't care for history, or have trouble with numerous characters, names, places, and dates, it's probably not up your alley. It also requires patience. While the whole story is interesting, it doesn't really "hook" you until about halfway through the book(496 pages total). The writing is awkward, in that the author is redundant in his descriptions and explanations of people, places and situations, AND the timeline jumps back and forth quite a bit. Several times, I found the redundancy to be irritating, and wondered if Edsel thought his readers would be stupid; you only need to describe a person as "dapper" once or twice - I think I counted five or more (should have made a drinking game of it). I plan to see the film, which opens this weekend. I'm glad to have read the book though, since there's no way a feature film will be able to include everything.
on December 4, 2013
This was a fascinating story and deserved to be plucked from the annals of history and told to everyone.
However, the story-telling and writing was not done well at all. The chapters were confusing. The sentences were very. Choppy. Whoever did the editing on this book needs a refresher course on sentence and paragraph structure.
The chapters were arranged in a vague, chronological structure and kept bouncing back and forth between countries/sections of Europe. One chapter would be on Paris, the next on Normandy, then we skip over to Germany and several different cities there, and then over to Belgium and then - hey!- we're back in Paris. In the midst of that, the author would throw in a chapter or two about Hitler and his henchmen. Oh, let's add a few personal letters and some edicts from Hitler et al, as well as personal letters from the Monuments Men to their loved ones. I was constantly confused throughout the book about who was where and who was who.
In addition to bouncing around the European Theater every chapter, the authors persisted in leaving most of the chapters as a cliffhanger. It's not a cliffhanger when there are 50+ pages between the first chapter on Paris and the second chapter on Paris. A cliffhanger keeps you turning pages to see what is going to happen next - not flipping back and forth to try and remember who the primary and secondary characters were. (BTW - primary characters were listed in the FRONT of the book, secondary characters were listed in the BACK of the book. There was a lot of flipping going on.) Cliffhangers are also a familiar writing style in NOVELS - this was a history book and I think that was part of the problem, it was written as if you were to read it as a novel. The history of this is exciting enough, there doesn't need to be cliffhangers and dramatic writing added to it. Let the story tell itself in simple language.
I recently read "The Doolittle Raid: America's Daring First Strike Against Japan" by Carroll V. Glines. One of the things I loved about the book was that the author took each squadron from lift off through the end of the raid. It made it so much easier to read. Each section was one squadron. I think if the authors of this book had followed that technique, this would have been an easier read and a lot less confusing. It would have been simple to have what happened in Paris in one section, what happened in Belgium in another and use segues as needed. Or even better, to simply follow the cast of characters as they went on their mission, as they did not work together as a cohesive team moving from one site to another. There were several factions of the team working in several different cities across the continent.
One of my biggest gripes about the book was the authors really don't tell you what happened to the artwork. We have an idea that most of it was returned, but it's not acknowledged in the book. He gives one sentence to that subject "Even when the quest to discover and repatriate Nazi-stolen works of art began anew in the 1990s, the Monuments Men and their incredible achievements were mostly overlooked". That's it. Surely, in all the research that was done for this book, that information was available. Was 50% of the artwork returned? 75%? The Monuments Men have only recently been given recognition for the herculean work they did during the last days of the war, but it would be nice to give some recognition to those that continued the work AFTER WWII ended and are still continuing in this quest today.
One bit I did like was concerning Private Harry Ettlinger, a German Jew who immigrated to the United States as a child. His grandfather had told him about some of their family valuables that were stored in a warehouse in Germany. Private Ettlinger was able to locate this warehouse and his family treasures and send them back to the US. The collection was eventually distributed to his descendants, but Mr. Ettlinger still owns the largest share of the art trove.
Overall, I was very, very disappointed in this book. In the hands of a better writer (and maybe just a better editor) it could have been a fascinating, can't put it down, kind of read. The only reason I slightly recommend it is because the efforts of the men in the book were herculean and they deserve the recognition of history for what they accomplished.
on October 27, 2016
A few years ago, on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri and I toured their well-known art museum. I noted a number of paintings on loan by a Jewish family that stated the paintings were returned to the family by the Monument Men. I said to myself I need to read the book. Finally, I just did.
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.
on June 27, 2016
So I live in a house that has connection to a Monument Man in Minnesota, so I thought it behooved me to read the book that made the Monument Men famous.
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.
on September 24, 2015
The book adds so much more background if you only know the story from the recent movie starring Brad Pitt. Well-written, it puts the movie into perspective, and gives so much more info on the mind-boggling, systematic looting by the Nazis of the cultural heritage of Western Civilization. The impact of what these men did makes "Agents of Shield" look tame - and this story is true. If you remember the scene at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where they are wheeling the Ark, now in a plain wooden box, into a gigantic warehouse whose vastness consumed almost uncountable numbers other boxes of "stuff" as far as the eye could see… THIS story is where they got that image, as the Nazis built SEVERAL of these loot warehouses, almost all underground, carefully hidden and carefully booby-trapped, full of the booty they stole from the countries they invaded. There are pictures of these huge storehouse caves as illustration. Read this book and be prepared to have your mind boggled on many levels.
on November 5, 2015
What the monuments men did was remarkable, as no army in history had ever been convinced to even attempt to protect artwork and monuments. (And sadly, this has never been done again.) Fortunately, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Churchill realized that preserving European culture was important. Eisenhower issued an order that buildings designated as monuments could only be destroyed in situations of military necessity, not military convenience.
The monuments men were drawn from the museum and artistic community, and most of them were at least forty. This hits home even more in the movie when we see middle-aged men being recruited into the army. (Of course, many of the actors were older than the characters they portrayed.) The men worked mostly alone, without a lot of resources. After the D-Day landings, they learned how much art had been looted by the Nazis. So the mission wasn't just about protecting monuments from further destruction, it was also the greatest treasure hunt in history.
One woman played a huge part: Rose Valland of the Louvre. She was a witness to the Nazi looting, and she risked her life to document what they had stolen and where they were shipping it. Without her help, much of the art might never have been found. I recommend the book unreservedly.