Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Reviews on a Music Blog

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in HistoryThe Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

World War II stands, in my mind, at least, as perhaps the seminal moment of modern history. Perhaps most notably, it signaled the death toll of the Enlightenment, birthed the nuclear age, and elevated the United States to the level of superpower preeminence on the world stage. But, beneath the grand historical themes reside the stories of untold millions of people that lived through it all - stories that captivate the imagination and, at times, defy comprehension, due mostly to the fact that they actually occurred.

'The Monuments Men' documents just such a collection of stories - ones that may constitute some of the most fascinating & unknown aspects of the war.
The book unites two of my personal favorite subjects, namely war history and passion for great art. The men who comprised the officer corps of the MFAA were museum curators, art restorers, architects, impresarios, and historians who signed up for the mission of preserving the cultural heritage of all people threatened by the Nazi plague. Their recounting carries with it more than a tinge of wonder and reflection, as I found myself faced with the distinction between men who would give their lives to save for future generations the artistic legacies of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Vermeer, & Rembrandt and those who, out of spite and a sense of ethnic & nationalistic entitlement, would deprive the world of such legacies if they could not possess them themselves.

The book does not leave the motivations of the pilfering Nazis to speculation, either. It sheds light on why they did what they did - depraved and misguided as it most certainly was - giving the reader a fuller picture of all that was at stake.

Edsel also does a fantastic job of detailing the progress and flow of the war from the invasion of D-Day onward. The Monuments Men moved with the advancing Allied forces and were either hampered or expedited in their efforts accordingly. Both the frustrations and victories of men quite literally sifting through destruction in the hopes of finding beauty are recalled in accounts that are at different times comical, heartrending, touching & maddening. The ancillary stories are equally fascinating - those of French, Austrian, and even German individuals who risked their lives in defiance of Nazi madness.

This is a war account unlike any I've ever read, and a truly great one at that. The book is a testament to the fact that some of the war's greatest heroes were those who didn't fire a single shot while battling against one of history's greatest villains. It's too soon to call, but it may just go down as an all-time personal favorite.

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