Did you enjoy the Indiana Jones trilogy*? Did you enjoy the Da Vinci Code**? Then you will probably enjoy Ben Mezrich's Seven Wonders. I was lucky enoDid you enjoy the Indiana Jones trilogy*? Did you enjoy the Da Vinci Code**? Then you will probably enjoy Ben Mezrich's Seven Wonders. I was lucky enough to win a copy of the book through First Reads, and I zipped right through a story that is already set for (and should make a wonderful transition to) the big screen. In fact, that's probably the best adjective for the book: cinematic.
The story primarily follows the adventures of Jack Grady, an anthropologist (NOT an archaeologist--back off, copyright lawyers), who is tracing a mysterious connection between the seven wonders of the world (both the ancient and the modern sets). As the mystery unravels, we get to watch Jack get himself into and out of a variety of sticky situations set at some of the grandest and most famous sites in the world. Of course, there are also shady bad guys trying to unravel the mystery before Jack (and battling Jack in the process), and there is a female love interest, because hey, why mess with a winning formula?
In the end, the book basically provides what it promises: a fun adventure story with cool locations. It is far more thrilling adventure than it is mystery, but Mezrich does get credit for doing some research and providing lots of interesting factual foundation for the developing mystery (which I don't want to discuss here lest I give something away). For those of you have read them, it reminded me a bit of a modern version of the Ethan Gage books--secret societies and ancient mysteries in famous locations, all informed (but not limited) by actual research. There are a couple of details of some of the Seven Wonders sites that are a little off, and some slightly unbelievable plot points, but nothing so major that it ruins the fun of the read, even for the nitpicky among us.
So, then, if it delivered on the fun, why only three stars? Well, first, because I'm not sure I can ever give a true five-star, I-loved-it rating to a beach read. My apologies for snobbiness. Second, and more important, is that I still would have liked better character development. I'm all for plot-driven books, but I don't like to see the characters get sacrificed in the process. In this case, the main female character, Sloane Costa, is given limited development from the get-go, and then seems to act in contradiction to the few things we've actually been given about her character. Jack also has two grad student assistants whose main purpose is to buoy the plot, so despite their consistent presence, we know little about them. Jack is given a decent backstory, as is his nemesis (to a lesser extent), but that's about it. All of this means that when the action starts and people are putting themselves in danger and making bad decisions, part of me was simply enjoying the action, but another (smaller, thankfully) part of me was wondering why on earth these people were risking their necks.
In the end, though, my complaints were outweighed by the thrill ride of it all. Yes, it's a beach read, but it's a fun one, and a great choice for when you're in the mood for adventure. And I can't wait to see the movie.
*Yes, I meant to say trilogy. **Maybe even Angels & Demons, but forget about the other ones....more
Ambitious, intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying for me. I'm really not sure I can say more without spoiling something. This one really had me involAmbitious, intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying for me. I'm really not sure I can say more without spoiling something. This one really had me involved but let me down at the end. Especially the last line, which is just awful. ...more
This is really more like a 4.5 for me, but I'll go ahead and give it the benefit of the doubt because the history is fascinating and eye-opening.
I reaThis is really more like a 4.5 for me, but I'll go ahead and give it the benefit of the doubt because the history is fascinating and eye-opening.
I read the book in large part because the upcoming movie looks interesting, and I always prefer the book. The story describes the handful of soldiers--each with backgrounds and experience in various artistic fields--who participated in the front-line effort to preserve the artistic and architectural history of the nations impacted by the World War II. And one of the things that struck me is just how apt a description "handful" is. Though the movie trailers seem to show seven or eight Monuments Men apparently working together, the truth is that while the war was raging, there were only about a dozen (or fewer) Monuments Men in an army of 1.3 million, and they were often working alone, with little or no institutional support from the Army. What these men accomplished, despite falling bombs, few material resources, and frequent language barriers, is astounding and would be enough alone to merit this read.
But there is even more to the book. The authors do an excellent job of describing the surrounding events of the war to give color and context to the Monuments work. And they also tell the stories of the local heroes that risked their lives to save artwork that had been stolen by the Nazis and that, in some cases, would otherwise have been destroyed in the war. We're talking about sculptures by Michelangelo, paintings by Vermeer, and centuries-old cathedrals, among many, many others.
The book is well-written and, especially towards the end, takes on a thrilling pace as the Monuments Men race against time to rescue caches of stolen art from theft or destruction. Highly recommended. ...more