Monday, August 19, 2019

The Monuments Men - Robert Edsel -------------------- 4 Stars

Perhaps, you were like me and saw The Monuments Man movie, or even the PBS special (The Rape of Europa), about a decade ago. But, were you also like me and read and enjoyed the splendid book that both were based on? If not, read ahead (actually, just read ahead regardless).

If not familiar, the book/movies are about a great story regarding a group of men who served in the armed services during World War II. Their expressed objective was to keep the Nazis from destroying the greatest art/cultural pieces in Western Europe. The book follows the story of about a half a dozen of the most important characters that worked as Monuments Men from 1940 to 1945.

When I started, I wasn't sure I'd be as engaged in the story as the movie. Like often, the movie was (obviously) much shorter and pulled the most important aspects of the book. However, I was so pleased to enjoy the book as fully as I did. As happens often when comparing book vs. movie; the level of depth the author was able to spend with back stories, small details, and rounding of characters, made the book a fascinating read. Surprisingly, I struggled to put the book down, as the author did a masterful job of jumping from character to character; and, as soon as one start began to ran dull, it jumped back to another character's big discovery or closeness to death (that happens in war).

The book also had some existential themes run throughout. Perhaps, what made me most pensive, was the idea of a person's life/worth vs. a classic piece of art or historical document. Can you compare one to the other? Does any life trump non-life? Alternatively, is there any life as "valuable" as, say the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David? While the author never posed these questions in the book, I found myself often thinking about these incredibly famous historical works that were truly saved or rescued while the many losses of life necessary to do so.

I found few drawbacks of the book. Like any non-fiction story, there were times when the paced slowed too dramatically. In addition, some of the characters are a bit more interesting than others. So, there are parts where I was hoping that the author might jump to a more interesting character; but that feeling really did not last long (as the book did usually jump!)

I'd recommend this book to nearly all readers. It's a great unknown piece of history, especially during one of the most important periods of all time. The stories of these heroes that truly saved some of the world's great masterpieces is not to be missed or underappreciated.

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