Title: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
Author: Robert Edsel
Release Date: September 17, 2010
Publisher: Center Street
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Art History
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
During the World War II advance of the Allied armies towards Germany, history and culture was being lost along the way. Not only were historic structures in danger when battles took place, but even more importantly, the Nazis had looted every country they occupied and had made off with countless priceless items. With astounding foresight, the Allied forces created the Monuments Men, a group whose mission was to protect and preserve Europe’s culture, art, and history (including that of Germany’s, which would previously have been divided as spoils of war amongst the victors).
A fascinating account of a story almost no one knows, The Monuments Men is a story of men with courage, who understood the importance of history. Part treasure hunt, part personal story, and part history, this is a well-told account of a forgotten chapter of World War II.
The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History is a book that’s been sitting on my shelves since its release. It sounded interesting enough, but it got lost in the shuffle of new releases that are constantly coming my way, and I forgot about it. That is, until I heard about a movie that George Clooney was making, based on this very book. I immediately moved it to the top of my pile, eager to read it before the movie releases, and I’m happy to say it was well worth the wait: The Monuments Men was an exciting read that captured me from the very first page.
Robert Edsel tells the story of The Monuments Men from multiple points of view: from the men on the ground. They had very few resources, even less respect, and the fact that no one knew who they were didn’t help matters any. But each of these resourceful, determined men found a way to make a difference. Edsel intertwines their personal stories with the tales of what they were trying to accomplish, and it’s a very effective way to tell the story. The reader becomes invested in the story, as much to find out what happens to each of these men as to discover the fate of the looted and lost art.
But the main narrative thrust of The Monuments Men is indeed the hunt for the artwork and cultural artifacts. At each turn, it feels as though The Monuments Men are just a little too slow; the Nazis seem to outpace them. But soon, with some luck and encounters with people who risked their lives to protect art from the Nazis, things begin to go their way. Readers will be hooked as they race to discover what the Monuments Men actually find; it’s a story of everyday heroes, trying to make a difference the best way they could.
Edsel doesn’t shy away from the horrors of World War II in The Monuments Men; he knows the sacrifices the Allied forces made to secure Europe for future generations. He tells that story side by side with that of the Monuments Men, and it’s just difficult to imagine. At one point, he tells us that 47,000 men died over three weeks to advance something like only 15 miles in Germany; can people of this generation really even conceive of losses like that? I don’t think so. But what I do know is that, despite the fact that their story isn’t well known, the Monuments Men performed an important service for all of us, making sure that Europe’s cultural history was preserved, even while facing the worst of humanity.