BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monuments Men’ tells fascinating story
It’s hard to imagine that my opinion of the Nazis could sink any lower, but reading Robert Edsel and Bret Witter’s “The Monuments Men” has managed to do just that.
This book tells the story of a group of men who worked on the front lines to help stop and prevent the theft and destruction of artwork and monuments during World War II. Using a combination of historical letters and accounts, some never before seen, Edsel is able to tell the real story of “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”
During WWII, Hitler’s army spread throughout Europe, stealing paintings, statues, altar pieces, even personal furniture and jewelry, all for Hitler’s dreamchild, the Führermuseum, which was intended to hold every significant piece of artwork in the world. That meant every piece of culturally significant artwork in Europe was a target of the Nazi regime, resulting in the theft of more than 5 million cultural objects throughout the course of the war.
To make matters more difficult for the Monuments Men, as the tide turned against the Nazis and they started their retreat into Germany, Hitler ordered his troops to destroy everything in their path that the Allies could use, including the monuments.
These men, former curators, preservationists, architects and more, had to deal with a small team, few resources and little support in order to protect Europe’s cultural legacy. It is primarily them who are responsible for the monuments and museums tourists continue to enjoy today, and with “The Monuments Men” we can finally appreciate their role in the war effort.
The book started slowly, and it took a long time for me to get into it. I think a lot of it was that the book took so much timing setting up the background for the Monuments Men, whereas I wanted to jump right into their story. It was interesting, it just wasn’t engaging.
The writing style also took some time for me to adjust to. It switched back and forth between traditional nonfiction writing and more fictional storytelling, which was an unusual experience for me as a reader. I think the authors were trying to give personality to the historical figures in the book, but they failed to really create characters like fiction authors do. It would have been better had they committed to one or the other.
However, the book gained a lot of momentum as it went on. It is very well-organized and laid out, so by the time the Monuments Men started finding caches of artwork hidden in mines and castles, I really wanted to know what was going to happen to all of the artwork.
I was also very impressed by the amount of research that went into writing this book, and I thought including original texts like Nazi orders and the Monuments Men’s personal letters was a really nice touch.
I’m excited to see how this book is adapted to film, which is due in theaters Friday. It’s a compelling story that I think would really benefit from being brought to life, and as a movie, I think Hollywood has the opportunity to do just that. I only hope they stay true to the spirit of the book and historical events and don’t take the storytelling too far.
While it did take a while for me to become engrossed in the book, “The Monuments Men” has a great story that is definitely worth experiencing. By the time I finished, I was happy to learn that Edsel has two other books documenting the preservation of art during World War II. And I really can’t wait to see the movie.
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