Miranda's Reviews > The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
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Sep 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed
Read in September, 2011

I picked this book up after watching the documentary, “Rape of Europa”. I was completely fascinated by the stories of the people and the art the documentary detailed and wanted to know more. I figured that by reading the books the documentary used as source material, I would get the bigger picture. I started with, “Monuments Men” by Robert Edsel and have “Rape of Europa” next on my shelf.

This is probably the first American World War II history book I have ever read that wasn’t part of school curriculum reading. I completely admit to a lack of knowledge about the nitty gritty of World War II on-the-ground-facts. This book was full of that and with the added angle of the art world, a personal interest, I was completely fascinated. I’m not sure if someone with a better historical education of World War II would find the individual stories as interesting as I did. I also think that if you don’t really care about art in general, you won’t find this as interesting.

This is the story of the Monuments Men, a group of soldiers (they were never a formed unit, rather just individuals who were attached to specific battalions) entrusted with protecting the entire cultural heritage of Western Europe for the Allies in World War II. Such a mission had never before been undertaken and, in modern times, was not undertaken again until after the first Iraq war. These men were right behind or on the front lines, attempting to minimize damage to cultural landmarks from aerial bombings and fighting, cataloging the astounding looting of art by the Nazis and beginning the search for and restoration of the looted art to the correct owners.

I also enjoyed the larger story told of the war itself. Most of it centered on the drive towards and invasion of Germany. Most of the time you read or study the invasion of France on the shores of Normandy, then you study how the Allies war machine turned towards this country and that country and were joined by this Ally and that Ally and the decision making processes of their leaders; there isn’t too much about the individual troops on the ground who aren’t necessarily anyone important. This book told some of their stories and recognized them as small cogs in a massive war machine which couldn't be denied. This book also told the story of the actual invasion of Germany, which I had never learned about before.

The story is extraordinary. The Monument Men were fighting to save historical buildings that were being fought over room by room. Every time they found another cache of looted art, they were forced to improvise methods to save it, sometimes from conditions that were destroying it before they could get to it. But the parts I truly enjoyed the most were the stories of the individual soldiers. Letters from husbands to wives are in these pages and stories of strength, courage and horror are here are well.

The book is very well-researched and written. I think Mr. Edsel does a good job balancing the individual stories against the background of the larger personalities and war. There is only one section of the book that I felt like was bogged down in dates, names and other dry facts, but it goes by quickly and didn’t change my enjoyment in the end.

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