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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History » User review

Glorious Bastards

  • Sep 25, 2009
My title is a play on the current movie "Inglourious Basterds". I found this Tarentino film brilliant in its depiction of personal conflicts and decisions in the face of sheer evil, that works at its level of sometimes comedic plotting and cartoonish violence precisely because Nazi-ism is the universally hated face of evil. As Edsel quotes Eisenhower after he had toured the first concentration camp and the horror of the Holocaust began to reveal itself, we now knew, if not what we were fighting for, then without a shadow of doubt what we were fighting against--and it was evil. It has become somehow acceptable to rewrite history less than 100 years old and say that the Holocaust didn't exist or that Nazism wasn't that bad or that there were "good" Nazis.

Yes, there may have been individual Nazi party members who were not evil, but there is no mistaking after reading Edsel's book that the evil was real, that it threatened 10,000 years of human achievement, and that we realize more than ever today, as we are enriched by the masterpieces saved by the Monuments Men, what we were fighting against.

Monuments Men is Edsel's tribute to the civilizing force of art against evil--and the civilization that committed resources to saving it in the midst of the darkest days of civilization. World War II swept across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, blasting through and over language, culture, history, populations, defenses, and weapons. Nothing seemed sacred. The sacrifices of the Greatest Generation in preserving humanity have been well documented. These were indeed glorious bastards deserving of every praise given.

Until now, however, the saving of cultural treasures (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives, or MFAA in the acronym-speak of the Allied governments) has taken a back seat to the life and death tragedies. Edsel documents the march of the Nazi Blitzkrieg through Europe's artistic treasures (focusing on a couple of key centers like the Louvre) and the confiscation, destruction, or loss of those treasures to war damage or conquering avarice.

But in the midst of the war, at the urging of a small cross-section of the art museum community, an idea was born from the realization of the risk to the world's shared cultural heritage, that perhaps we could save and demonstrate our humanity by saving our culture. Edsel describes the slow, small, and faltering steps that enabled the Monuments Men to do just that.

Edsel's focus in this book is just on France and Germany. He promises a second book focusing on the Monument Men in Italy. He also makes a passing reference to the Asian and Pacific MFAA, which would no doubt easily make a third volume, although he doesn't mention that one is in the works.

The story is well told, unfolding at first at a leisurely pace that introduces the main characters in the Monuments Men (and one heroic woman who almost single-handedly saved the Louvre) and mirrors the plodding pace of the bureaucracy. Then the pace quickens as the magnitude of the crisis and the impossibility of the task is realized, and finally climaxes in the chase across Europe to find and save the lost treasures just behind (and sometimes ahead of!) the fast-moving front.

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review by . October 20, 2009
I received this book as a review copy from the publisher. "The Monuments Men" uses letters written by the Monuments Men and other documents to tell the story why the MFAA section was created and what eight of those men encountered while doing work in Normandy, France and in Germany.    The author assumes the reader doesn't know much about WWII and so fills in the details about the war occurring around them as we learn where they went and what they found and did there. The first …
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Todd Stockslager ()
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I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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WWII was the most destructive war in history and caused the greatest dislocation of cultural artifacts. Hundreds of thousands of items remain missing. The main burden fell to a few hundred men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations. Their task was to save and preserve what they could of Europe's great art, and they were called the Monuments Men. (Coincidentally or not, this book appears only briefly after Ilaria Dagnini Brey'sThe Venus Fixers: The Untold Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II, Reviews, June 1.) Edsel has presented their achievements in documentaries and photographs. He and Witter (coauthor of the bestsellingDewey) are no less successful here. Focusing on the organization's role in northwest Europe, they describe the Monuments Men from their initial mission to limit combat damage to structures and artifacts to their changed focus of locating missing items. Most had been stolen by the Nazis. In southern Germany alone, over a thousand caches emerged, containing everything from church bells to insect collections. The story is both engaging and inspiring. In the midst of a total war, armies systematically sought to mitigate cultural loss.(Sept. 3)
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ISBN-10: 1599951495
ISBN-13: 978-1599951492
Author: Robert M. Edsel
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Center Street
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