Review: The Monuments Men

The theft of art and gold by Hitler’s Nazis is still, sixty plus years after the war. a stock plot line in movies and on television. The Monuments Men: Allied heroes, Nazi thieves and the greatest treasure hunt in history, is the first book I know of to take a look at the actual history of Allied efforts to protect and preserve the cultural treasures of Europe. This well researched book is brought alive by the use of letters the Monuments Men wrote to friends and family while on duty in the war zone. The story is so interesting and so well told that I could not believe how quickly I read the book.Book cover

The book has plenty of photographs, many that you could have seen before. In fact while reading the book I saw one of the included photos used in a recent episode of the television program “Bones”. This story has seeped into our culture. However in this book the men are identified, the captions tell you more than “US soldiers with recovered art”. In spite of having a good supply of photos in the book it was nice to access to the internet to find color images of locations and art work mentioned in the text.

I need to confess that part of my enthusiasm for this book could be my personal biases. I enjoy visiting art museums and historic buildings, for most of the 1980s almost all of my reading was WWII history, and I hope to someday work in a museum, paid or volunteer, I don’t really care. I loved this book and I think everyone will, but like I said, I am biased. There is one bit of criticism I have for the authors. Creating sentences for the subjects to say, conversations that may have happened but are not documented, hurts the historical value of the work much more that it helps the story move along.

As impressed as I was by the work done by the these men (and women) during the war, learning about their accomplishments after was a surprising bonus. I envy their commitment to their life’s work. Edsel and Witter produced a book I am very happy to have read, even if it was disappointing to learn just how much the Burt Lancaster’s movie “The Train” was fictionalized.

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