Christina’s Review: The Monument’s Men by Robert M. Edsel

Christina’s Review: The Monument’s Men by Robert M. EdselThe Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
Published by Center Street on 2009-09-03
Genres: History, Military, World War II
Pages: 496
Format: eBook
At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.
Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.

The Monument’s Men tells a story that is not-so-known to many people since the release of the book followed by the movie of the men in World War II who were part of the monuments division to find and protect stolen artifacts. These men sacrificed their lives in the war for the protection and recovery of priceless works of art. It is a different side to the War than one usually sees or hears about. For me, I was in awe of this side of war and the near loss of so many beautiful pieces of art that needed to be saved for the rest of the world to see and treasure.

I have not yet seen the movie, and don’t think I will (for now). The story told by Robert Edsel was a captivating one… it invoked emotions and provided a detailed history of the events. As Edsel noted, the theft, loss, and recovery of so many precious pieces of art is “one of the most important and unbelievable moments in art history” and its history is untold and unknown to so many, myself included, prior to reading this. (378) I was heartbroken at the near loss of so many works of art…

Edling continued to tug at my heartstrings and captured the impact of the war and the loss so many people suffered through. At one point, then men were going through a trove of lost items, including bags of wedding bands and gold teeth pulled from victims of the Holocaust. It was hard to read of the loss of so many, and the careless collection of these mementoes and items of people’s lives, just piled  away. (294) The story was hard to read at times, but it is a story worth reading and one that should be known. As for the art, to read about Rembrandt’s, Matisse’s, Durer’s and other painting yellowing and molding in caves… a Michelangelo statue just laying on an old mattress in hiding. I shuttered…

A couple of things I struggled with during the book:  We read this book for our December book club pick, and I am afraid it was a little long. The book is detailed, filled with historic information, dates, locations, and people. It will take a reader some time to get through (it definitely took me longer than I had anticipated!) So if you do plan to read this book, be sure to block out some time before your next read. Another issue I had with the book may be more due to the Kindle version I was reading… as I read through the book and the art pieces that were the focus of discussion in a chapter or “scene,” I wanted to see a picture of the object. I was hoping to come across the work of art in the middle of the discussion so I could relate to the object or make a new connection with an object. At the end of the Kindle addition, there were some photographs of the pieces, however, many of the major pieces discussed were not represented here (although a couple of the main ones were, including the Ghent altar piece and the Madonnas). One last note with this… I have never read a Kindle book with endnotes like this before. I would recommend reading a paperback/hardback copy of this book for this reason. I like to flip back and forth to read and compare the notes and sources. While you can click on the endnote and it bring up the resources on the Kindle, it did not allow me to easily compare resources across a chapter.

I studied art history some while I was an undergraduate at George Mason. I even went to Greece, Turkey and Ireland to study abroad and see the art and architecture of the regions. (Minored in classical studies) Because of this, as well as my American history background, I found the book to be a very interesting and unique read. On that note, I do love to read historical fiction. This book is one I would recommend for the history and art history lover.

pj - christina

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