At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Führer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.
The Monuments Men follows the story of six men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section. This section was born out of the need of protecting culture from both allied and nazis. While their mission was supported in theory by the main political figures of the time, it was never well-funded or organized, since war offensive was given a higher priority. Thus, the number of MFAA men was always scarce. Robert Edsel raises an important question: what is our cultural legacy really worth? Compared to the crimes against humanity committed by the nazis, protecting art seemed like a futile attempt. Although losing art meant partially losing Europe's identity, the MFAA was soon forgotten after the end of World War 2. In this book, he has given us the opportunity to learn about their mission.
I know next to nothing about art history, so I'm not surprised that I didn't know about this particular topic (although I really enjoy reading about WW2). Even I could tell that the book is extremely-well researched. Robert Edsel delivers an in-depth account of the day-to-day lives of the men in the MFAA section, along with their greatest victories: saving the Louvre and hunting down the art Hitler stole to create his own Führermuseum. However, the writing does the topic a disservice. The author tries to convert this story, which is interesting per se, into a mix of Hollywood heist/hero story. It's also peppered with a great deal of cheap patriotism, automatically sanctifying everything the allied forces did, and turning the nazis to cartoon villains.
I was very excited to get my hands on this, but the book wasn't exactly as I expected it to be. The movie trailer might have had something to do with my disappointment, too. The Monuments Men was informative and interesting nonetheless, but I won't be rushing to reread it.
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