The book about THE MONUMENTS MEN should probably be on the reading list of most high schools in America. It should definitely be on the reading list for all college history and/or social science classes. I was vaguely aware of the effort to find some stolen art after World War II, but I had a very incomplete picture.
I’ve not seen the movie yet, and I am glad I found the book first.
Robert Edsel did a fantastic job of combining history and enough exposition to explain one of the most important efforts of World War II. Without art, we loose our history.
Wherever possible, he uses actual dialogue and written records to tell as complete a story as possible. Since the effort of the Monuments Men was pretty much buried after the war, Edsel had a formidable task creating a true history. He did an amazing job. Their has to be fictional exposition in this book to make it readable, but Edsel did a seamless job.
In fact, he makes sure we can follow all the disparate pieces with quick and timely reviews. It all fits together like a fine glove.
As the Monuments Men travel through defeated Germany seeking out looted art, the story gets very sobering. “Was he crossing the front lines? It was impossible to say. In many places, German soldiers were driving around in convoys, desperately hoping to surrender to Americans. Along the roads, Posey could see their faces behind barbed wire, most of them smiling now that their war was over. But oftentimes in the next town, German forces would be dug in, fighting to the last man. An abandoned village would erupt with sniper fire from dark windows. Unseen machine-gun emplacements would strafe the road. Some American units experienced little or no fighting; others lost more men during the void than they had in the previous six months. Both violence and peace were random and chaotic. The maps were useless. Sometimes Posey wondered if his compass still pointed north. There was no magnetism here, he figured, no force holding things together. It seemed the laws of nature, all laws in fact, were suspended.”
Recovering everything became very depressing. “As for what will ultimately happen to the materials, fine porcelains, good uninteresting minor masters, stamps, snuff boxes, furniture, etc. I do not in the slightest care of the original owners who are doubtless dead or the present owners who are doubtless charming people who love dogs and horses get them back or keep them or let them fade rot, or break in their cellars. I am interested in only one bit of art history. How do I get home.”
The book has plenty of photos from the front, but I found myself hoping for even more.
Still, this is a great book.