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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 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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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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on February 7, 2014
This was the best historical book I've read all year. I've heard a lot about Nazi plunder and I knew that as a failed artist Hitler coveted many great works of art from private Jewish collections. However I never realized that there was a join US/British military effort to secure the culture of Europe. After reading this book I was also surprised to learn that sometimes the Monument Men had to protect works of art from our own soldiers. With German snipers hiding in cathedral bell towers the urge to just knock the building down had to be resisted. Frustrated allied soldiers smashed chandeliers and artwork after learning that Red Cross packages intended for US POWs were stashed in German basement. The sheer amount of Nazi plunder was staggering, as I kept reading I found myself thinking "they found another stash?".

When we think of art we tend to think mainly of the paintings, but the monuments men were attempting to safeguard architectural works, sculptures, altar pieces, and relics in addition to paintings. A few times I had to stop reading to look up pictures of the art online (not realizing the most frequently mention pieces are shown in "photos" chapter at the end of the kindle version).

The book is a story of the "people" as much as it is the "acts" of the monuments men. The book starts out with a quick blurb about each of the main players in MFAA. Then at the end of most of the chapters is a letter written by a monument man to his family back home (although a few of the chapters ended with correspondence from Hitler to Nazi leaders). This author did a great job researching a little know tale from WW2. This is a great read for anyone interested in art, history, or WW2. I highly recommend!
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on January 13, 2014
Easy read and very informative story telling format. I agree that it could've benefitted from some editing..the way the stories are told is a bit disjointed and confusing, but the story on the whole is so compelling that I managed to piece it together satisfactorily. I read The Rape of Europa when that came out around 1995 and so the existence of this group of people and what they did was not new to me. Rape is written more like a history book, and it remains the definitive work about Nazis and art in all of Europe starting well before 1939. Edsel recommends Rape to those wanting to know more detail...and Rape is very detailed. After finishing Monuments Men, I hunted and found my copy of Rape and decided to reread it. Because Rape refers to the same people in Monuments Men I am getting a more complete historical picture of this aspect of the war. Monuments Men relates the story from the personal points of view of those few people the author focused on who were involved in recovering art in France and Germany...and the race to beat the Russians to the treasure troves. Can't wait to see the movie and to what extent the movie deviates from the real story, especially as relates to the French woman, Rose Villand. The American monuments men were happily married or single and a lot of what we know about their work came from letters they wrote to their wives back home.
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on June 4, 2014
I definitely wanted to read this before I finally see the movie and this book is a great read. Lots of interesting info in this. I looked up the various art pieces on line as I read so I could see color pictures and some background on them which added a lot to the reading experience. It starts a bit slowly as the background and history on each man and the unit as a whole is laid out but stick with it, it picks up steam and pulls you into the experience fully. Wish someone in the US Army had considered the experience in WW II when they invaded Baghdad so that protection details would have been set up around the museums and zoos to avoid the looting and slaughter that occurred.
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