on 23 February 2012
This is a story that demands a major audience. Hitler's war placed in jeopardy much of the world's greatest artwork, and this tells the story of what happened to parts of that art and how efforts were made by the Allies to avoid damaging it and to reclaim stolen art for its true owners.
If it were for the subject matter alone, this book would get five stars. Unluckily the story has been told from an almost exclusively American perspective, as if auditioning for a Hollywood screenplay. Americans' actions are described in an irritatingly folksy way, including many comments from their papers showing their national bigotry (e.g. saying that Roosevelt stood almost alone against the Nazis), while their British colleagues are almost ignored. This may be down to the facts that the author is American and that his admittedly extensive research relies heavily on Americans' memoirs. Perhaps equivalent British sources don't exist?
Read it for the incredible events contained within and for the passion for art that the author convincingly conveys to the reader, but forgive the style and remember that the Americans weren't the only people involved.
on 10 January 2014
Fascinating story badly told.
Meandering across a vast array of information, moments of real excitement exploded by deathly prose compounded by repetition and imputed thought and speech. An important record but a bad historical novel!
on 25 November 2014
The writer of this book has managed to turn a moderately interesting story into a thoroughly dull and irritating one. It's badly written, unevenly paced, with much jumping about between insufficiently distinguishable characters plus endless repetition that wouldn't be necessary if the characters had more -- well -- character, and there was less frequent cutting to other locations. Plus it's s-l-o-w.
But for me, as a UK person with parents who both had first-hand overseas Services experience of WW2, the most annoying factor is its very US-centric focus.
I hope it's not necessary to give US readers as much explanatory detail about Europe as this author (or his editor) seems to feel they require and I'm sure European readers (UK included) have no need of it. I mean, I know where Belgium is and that Paris is the French capital, and I can't be the only one who does…
It is perfectly possible that my take on America's role in the second world war was never going to coincide with the author's, given my family background, and younger British or European readers may not agree with me. However, I have to say I found unacceptable and deeply patronising his view, both implied and overt, repeatedly expressed, that when the US army arrived in Europe the war was, consequently, all but over.
There are not many books that I can't make myself persevere to the end of, but this was one. The sad thing is that in other hands it could perhaps have been fascinating.
on 27 December 2010
A really good story which deserves to be well writen. Sadly this is not the case....Edsel's style (if that is what it is) is to put together...not in chronolgical order...a disjointed account of these US soldiers at the end of WW2.The English is truly appalling, with badly constructed sentences, which are often repeated in different chapters of the book.Chapters are often only a few paragraphs long.I really objected to the, probably fabricated, innermost thoughts of this group of men....why is it necessary to include such speculation?
A missed oppurtunity.
on 4 May 2014
"The Monuments Men" by Robert M. Edsel is story about the Monuments Men, less-known people that risked their lives near or behind lines of Nazi Germany to prevent from destruction many precious works of art.
Due to those brave American and British museum directors, curators and art historians numerous culturally important objects and things were preserved and this book tells their story from the perspective of six of those brave men.
The events portrayed in book are happening last year of the WW II when Monuments Man followed advancing Allied forces from the West, after the D-day and invasion to Italy took place, while they try desperately and with minimum support, sometime even without understanding, to perform their valuable job.
There are many interesting individual cases that were mentioned in the book, like painstakingly following the trail of the art pieces that were stolen from the Louvre while the Nazi regime was in charge, or supervising extraction of stolen paintings and other artwork from the salt mines where they were stored by Nazis.
Through the book a motive of "love of art" will be mentioned many times, a syntagm that was used by Nazis as an explanation why so many art pieces were stolen from the museums and other places.
It was great to read how art can unite people, even from the opposing sides in WW II like in the case with one German expert in art who helped the French Louvre manager to reduce the consequences of the museum looting to the minimum possible.
The author also without any sentiment is telling about some events that are almost surreal like a story describing how the people from one village in Belgium jointly decided to save one valuable work of art from the Middle Ages, even though everything around them is almost completely destroyed.
Overall, this book will be a good read for all those interested in WW II and art, a well-researched and well-written book that brought new light on some lesser-known events of the time period that is so often been the subject of numerous literary works, but almost no one has referred to these brave people who enable millions of people today to enjoy the works of art that were on the verge of being gone forever.
Due to that, I recommend you to read it in order to, next time you will look at some work of art that was rescued by Monuments Men, you remember them and thus pay tribute to their remarkable feat.
on 30 December 2012
The story of the brave and dedicated people striving to preserve Art is amazing. Unfortunately it is poorly written , has a disjointed story line, and is far too long.
I wanted to follow the stories of all the monument people as they had taken on such an important job, with few resources, but I found I was distracted by the lack of cohesion and storytelling skills.
The book is worth reading as the events undertaken are impressive, but be prepared to be tolerant of the author's poor skill.
on 11 September 2014
I would recommend this book but be careful not to compare it with the film - the two are very separate. I have given this book only 4 stars because it praises the American war effort above everyone elses'. It also does nothing to commemorate in full the true heroine of the MAFF, Rose Valland. In my opinion, she sounds like a true inspiration but that does not mean to say that any of the people mentioned in this book were not an inspiration because they were. Yes, its a book written for an American audience and although the English is passible, I just wish American authors would get past the most awful expression, "gotten". Please try and use a more pleasing and succinct wording such as "achieved", "obtained", "acquired" etc.
Putting all the above to one side, I found this book hard to put down. Afterall it is very readable (its accuracy is another matter for debate perhaps?) of how Western and Eastern European art and culture was saved from either complete greed or complete annhilation and therefore makes for an excellent account of one of the greatest art crimes ever committed. Please remember that the subject matter is large and the achievements etc., of MAFF are far too numerous to dismiss or even to comprehend. Do give this book a chance, you will be glad you did.
on 24 March 2014
Considering this is such an unexplored and absorbing subject it is exceedingly disappointing it is constructed and written so poorly. I think there is a clue in that the book has joint authorship. Edsel has obviously done a considerable amount of diligent research and on his own could probably write a decent book. I suggest he wrote all of the last chapter in that it was informative, spare and well written. The inclusion of the MMs' letters home provided an excellent insight too. However, it is my conjecture with ('bestseller') Witter's input there was a change of tact and schmaltz, unrequired 'drama', and clanking 'cliff hangers' made their way on the page. A decent editor by deleting the endless repetition and repeated phraseology if nothing else would have lost 80 pages or more.
Even so it is a fascinating subject matter and was complimentary to Antony Beevor's book on WWII that I had just read. A story deserving to be told but one where the author was deserving a decent editor.
Mind you, after 40 or so years, I'll have to go watch 'The Train' again.
I saw this film in the cinema several years ago and bought the book as a gift for my husband. He said it was great so I decided to read it too, but the book had languished on my shelf for some time. Having picked it up now though I was curious to see more about the real story with the Hollywood glamour taken out.
There is plenty of explanation about the backgrounds of the individuals involved. They all come from artistic worlds to some degree and relished the opportunity to have a part in saving the culture heritage of Europe.
Conflict of many kinds is at the heart of this book. There is the actual fighting against the Germans and also the dilemma of trying not to cause any more damage than is absolutely necessary. It was one of the jobs of the Monuments Men to keep reminding everyone of their obligations to the fabric of the countries they were saving.
A lot is written about World War II but I've never read so much detail about the advance of the troops across Europe after D day. The winter of 1944/5 created dreadful conditions for the men and this author describes the conditions perfectly - I had complete understanding without any overwhelming drama.
Throughout the book there is a lot of repetition which is really good. Reinforcing the facts about the men and the locations is necessary in an account of a period of history which is very confusing. The repetition makes the people become familiar enabling the reader to concentrate on the progress.
We follow the troops across Europe (as do the Monuments Men) and when they arrive in Germany the most incredible finds are made, in castles, mines and other places. The book ratchets up the excitement when they enter the treasure troves of art stolen by the Nazis.
As observers, we see the horrors of the Nazi regime through the eyes of the Monuments Men - their interest in the material destruction but the human tragedy is brought into every element of the book - effecting both the Germans and Allies equally. The human consequences are dealt with in an understated way which has a powerful effect.
I was surprised how exciting this book was to read - at times it is more like a thriller than a factual account which is a credit to the author who added dialogue then linked together what must have been mountains of research, resulting in a story which flows beautifully. The chapters are usually less than 10 pages each and most end with a good link through to the next.
on 6 July 2014
The Monuments Men and The Women Who Wrote the War both tell interesting stories in their own right, and also provide a bonus by describing aspects of the history of World War II not covered in the mainstream accounts.
The Monuments Men (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives) were a part of the allied armies. They were archivists and art historians; part of the army, but not expected to fight, they frequently found themselves at the front line. Although men from the MFAA section served in other areas, this book concentrates on the campaign in North-West Europe from D-day until the end of the war (and beyond). As well as finding themselves in the middle of a war zone, as victory loomed they also became involved in the growing tension between the Western allies and the Soviet Union that was eventually to become the Cold War.
The Women Who Wrote the War covers a wider canvas and a longer timescale. It documents the experience of women reporters (mainly American) who covered the Second World War for a variety of publications and news bureaux. The early chapters cover conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and the Sino-Japanese hostilities of the late 1930s which were part of the armed struggle against Fascism before “the war” started – September 1939 if you are British; June 1941 if you are Russian and December 1941 if you are American.
Like the monuments men, the women reporters were officially part of the army but were not expected to fight – indeed they were expressly forbidden from being in a combat zone. However, by accident or design, they frequently did find themselves in the thick of the fighting. They witnessed the Blitz, the fall of the Philippines, the Normandy campaign, the liberation of Paris and many other key moments in the war.
Both books tell their story chronologically which means they move back and forward between individuals (and in the case of The Women Who Wrote the War, between fronts thousands of miles apart). This sometimes makes the story difficult to follow. Nonetheless, these books are an important part of any library of books about the Second World War.