The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
NY: Center Street, 2009
(Click here for to read about the paintings on the book cover.)
Last year, Monuments Men was available as a Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99 so I grabbed a copy, but didn’t read it until this year. I found the book fascinating. What the monuments men did was remarkable, as no army in history had ever been convinced to even attempt to protect artwork and monuments. (And sadly, this has never been done again.) Fortunately, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Churchill realized that preserving European culture was important. Eisenhower issued an order that buildings designated as monuments could only be destroyed in situations of military necessity, not military convenience.
The monuments men were drawn from the museum and artistic community, and most of them were at least forty. This hits home even more in the movie when we see middle-aged men being recruited into the army. (Of course, many of the actors were far older than the characters they portrayed.) The men worked mostly alone, without a lot of resources. After the D-Day landings, they learned how much art had been looted by the Nazis. So the mission wasn’t just about protecting monuments from further destruction, it was also the greatest treasure hunt in history.
One woman played a huge part: Rose Valland of the Louvre. She was a witness to the Nazi looting, and she risked her life to document what they had stolen and where they were shipping it. Without her help, much of the art might never have been found. I recommend the book unreservedly.
Had I watched the movie first, I might have liked it. I really wanted to like it, but I had read the book first. The movie changed the names of the people involved, which I found confusing and a little disrespectful, and created some composite characters. Some of the incidents in the book were highly dramatized for the film, and other scenes were just made up, no doubt for dramatic effect. Instead of enjoying it, I found myself mumbling things like, “that’s not what happened” and “that’s not the way it happened” etc.
My advice is: Read the book and skip the movie!
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An interesting post. Thanks for sharing, Linda!
I understand your frustration at seeing the movie after reading the book. It often happens to me, too. I rarely found a movie to be better than the book.
As about what those men did, saving great art monuments, they deserve all our appreciation. I have in mind what is happening now in the Arabic world where the horrible terrorists destroy ancient, valuable monuments.
I know what you mean. I hate what the new barbarians are doing in the Middle East.
I think I’m going to have to get this book! The subject fascinates me, and I watched the movie but felt like it was underdone. The task of the Monuments Men didn’t come off quite as heroic as I imagined it to be. And I don’t really want to leave it at that. 🙂
What they did was heroic. I actually had tears in my eyes by the end of the book.
Excellent review! And thanks for the warning re: the movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but now I’ll definitely skip it and stick to the book. Such a fascinating story and moment in history. Thanks for the review!
Glad you found it useful, Rob.
Great review of a very interesting time in history! And thanks for the advice re the movie. I’d enjoy this book. I think my second son would as well, and he has a birthday coming up. Thank you!