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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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon May 28, 2015
The history of World War II contains many dimensions that continue to be discovered or revisited. Robert M. Edsel writes of the 350 men and women that helped to retrieve and save the most historic pieces of artwork created in art history from Hitler and the Nazis. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History is their story and shows from 1943-1951. But their attempts to preserve the past first came about within the actual buildings that housed these works, churches, museums, and other monuments that became prone to damage during the war. And thereafter during the war, it was their responsibility to locate the five million movable works and cultural artifacts that were stolen by the Nazis, which included works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Jan Vermeer, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Donatello and the pieces that were the highlight of Edsel’s book, the Ghent Altar pieces, Bayeaux Tapestry, and painting of Mother and Child. For students of art appreciation, to see how history intertwines with art beyond H.W. Janson’s History of Art, Edsel widens the perspective and understanding.

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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on September 6, 2014
This is a difficult review to write. I liked the book; well written and, to me, interesting. Unfortunately, I don't think many readers will find it very entertaining. It certainly wasn't a page turner and the fact that it's been made into a movie with a rather large stellar cast has me wondering. The problem both with the book and its movie is the fact that these men worked almost always alone and sporadically in two man teams. Their primary task was to keep Allied armies from destroying European monuments and repairing those that were damaged. What I suspect will be the focus of the movie, however, is the hunt for treasures looted and hidden by the Nazis. While this was a significant part of their job and part of the book it was hardly the bulk of what they did. However, finding this loot is what made the news and what their claim to fame turned out to be. But the fact seems to be that thanks to German fascination with record keeping they didn't have a very hard time learning where these things were only getting there before they could be destroyed or damaged. In this pursuit the Monuments Men were usually completely at the mercy of the war gods and luck. Consequently, the story really lacked any serious drama or mystery. The book simply tells the story of a group of men that through individual initiative did the best they could to save Europe's cultural artifacts. This story certainly needs to be told and these men deserve the recognition thus far denied them but don't read this book looking for an action packed thriller set in WWII.
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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.
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on August 22, 2017
This book should be a must read for every high school student. This is such a missed subject involving the men and women of the Monuments team. It was the movie that first brought these, yes Heroes, to my attention. Even the American Heroes Network hasn't mentioned them or their work during WW II (if I missed it I apologize). What a horrible lost it would have been if not for these men and women. God Bless them all.
Read this book! You will not regret it. If you don't you will have miss much.
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on March 7, 2014
It's about time that such an important story is written. We read about war or like in my case participate in one and we never think about the damage and destruction that takes place in the process. Things and places that are part of the history of humanity and even more important part of the heritage of the country and people that populate the place where the war takes place.Of course, World War Two was unique in that it took place in probably what is the richest part of the art world and also because the Nazi were so incredibly vicious and at the same time showed a love of art that makes no sense. They apparently thought nothing of raping and stealing everything that they considered valuable while destroying everything else in the process. The story of the men that risked their lives to save the works of art that otherwise would have been either destroyed or at best lost is almost hard to believe. I will never again look at a masterpiece in the many European museums without thinking what it might have been through during the war and appreciating the fact that it was the work of some or many Monuments men that I am able to see it.
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on July 5, 2014
The book is the story behind the men who rescued the plundered art of Europe at the end of World War II. It is the story of a very disparate group of men and women who brought their unique talents together to make a lasting contribution to the success of the Allied Cause in World War II. The stories of how they all reached their respective places in time in Europe at the end of World War II is very interesting and indicative of their willingness to contribute to the war effort.

What is of interest is the comparison between World War II historic preservation and the events in the Korean War and Iraq 2003 where in the latter there was wholesale looting of museums and the disappearance of priceless artifacts, only some of which were recovered. A very stark contrast indeed.

I would highly recommend reading this book before seeing the movie. I suggest this to give a better understanding of the people and events which are portrayed in the movie.
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VINE VOICEon March 3, 2014
It's undeniable that the story of the men who searched for plundered art and other European treasures across a continent in flames is a gripping and exciting high point in WWII history. And in the hands of a more experienced storyteller, so too could have been this book.

Instead, you have a slightly plodding, meandering book that only comes together near the end, where the discoveries toward the end of the war are just too remarkable for even a mediocre author to mess up. $5 billion in Nazi gold buried in a salt mine, Hitler's personal art collection -- this is where the book really starts to sizzle....and then it ends.

One personal Kindle quibble -- why put all the pictures at the end? It would have been more effective to see these great art works as you read and learn about them, rather than have them all appear together after the book is over.

In sum, this book is a double that could have been a home run.
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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.
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