Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Monuments Men: Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter

The full title of this book is The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

At the beginning of the book, Robert M. Edsel describes the Monuments Men:
The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, or MFAA. Most of the early volunteers had expertise as museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. Their job description was simple: to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat.
... Of the initial sixty or so that served in the battlefields of North Africa and Europe through May 1945, the primary period covered by our story, most were middle- aged, with an average age of forty. The oldest was sixty- six, an “old and indestructible” World War I veteran; only five were still in their twenties. Most had established families and accomplished careers. But they had all chosen to join the war effort in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, and to a man they were willing to fight and die for what they believed. I am proud to introduce them to you and to tell, as best I can, their remarkable stories.
Finally I am reviewing this book two months after I finished reading it. I put it off because I had such mixed feeling about the book. I am very interested in World War II history in general and the looting of art in particular. I was glad to see this book get such wide attention so that more people would know about the Monuments Men. My husband introduced me to this subject; he was the one who bought the book, then gave it to me when he finished it. But I really had not understood the magnitude of the loss of art during World War II (both from personal collections and from museums and churches) until I saw the documentary The Rape of Europa.

The stories of individual men performing heroically to save art are amazing. I enjoyed the personal stories of the jobs and families the men left behind. Most of the men featured in this book volunteered for the work, and had to join the military and put their lives at risk to do it.

However, I did not find it a compelling read. It took me many months to finish it. Part of that is just because nonfiction in general is not an easy read for me. Many reviewers describe the writing style as plodding and tedious. Others loved the book. I suspect the level of enjoyment in reading this book may be somewhat dependent on knowledge and interest in the topic. Some reviews criticized the book because the author invented dialogue. I actually don't remember that so much.

I plan to read The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas, and then view the documentary again. Robert M. Edsel was a co-producer of the documentary.

We have watched the movie based on this book twice and I will be doing a post on that soon.

Other resources:

At the Smithsonian website.

Katie at Doing Dewey liked this book more than I did. As did Bill at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

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Publisher:   Center Street, 2009
Length:       426 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:       History, non-fiction
Source:      Received from my husband.

14 comments:

  1. TracyK: Count me among those who enjoyed the book. I found the story moved swiftly. At the same time I was not fond of the dialogue. I find imagined dialogue in non-fiction distracting as I wonder how close it is to the real speech of the characters. I thought the book did a great job of showing how the Allies preserved and returned art while the Nazis destroyed and stole. I appreciate there have been many issues over the ownership of looted art since the war.

    As for the movie I was very disappointed. I will say more when I see your review.

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    1. It is good to have your opinion of the book, Bill. I have added a link to your review.

      I am glad I read the book and I have ordered Edsel's book of photographs, Rescuing Da Vinci. Edsel also has a newer book out titled Saving Italy which gets lots of good reviews.

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  2. I haven't read this book, but I have read The Rape of Europa. I think you might find you like that one better. I sometimes get stuck in non-fiction, too, but my recollection is that Europa was a fairly fast read. It was my introduction to the great loss civilization sustained when so much art was destroyed.

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    1. Joan, I hope to get to Rape of Europa this year. So many good books to read.

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  3. Tracy, I saw this film on television recently and liked it although I didn't write my thoughts on it. Now I'm eager to read the book.

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    1. I hope you do read the book, Prashant. It offers much more information about the subject.

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  4. Tracy - I think the topic is absolutely fascinating. And it's interesting to see how different readers have such different reactions to the same book. I have to admit I wasn't swept away by the film, but I watched during a long flight, so it passed the time well enough.

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    1. I will be posting my thoughts on the film very soon, Margot. It is interesting how many different takes there are on the book. Variety is the spice of life. It is worthwhile reading.

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  5. I too am usually fascinated by books about WWII but I could not get through this one at all. Terrible writing! Such a travesty because the subject matter itself is so great. I think it is the subject matter itself that has propelled it into popularity. The movie was also bad. Couldn't finish watching it! I applaud you for not giving up!

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    1. Faith, I am glad so much information on this subject has been researched and made available. I did not find the writing that bad, but just did not keep me coming back for more.

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  6. Sorry it wasn't much of a read - I do want to see the movie, so wild definitely try that first!

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    1. Both the book and the movie are worthwhile, Sergio. Let me know what you think of the movie.

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    1. Col, I would only recommend this to readers who are enthusiastic about the subject or like to read non-fiction. I admire the author's accomplishment though. He spent a lot of time on research on this topic that I have found beneficial.

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