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Author: Robert M. Edsel
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Military history ( WWII), Art History
Page Count: About 500-650 pages, depending on the edition.

This is a difficult review for me to write. Not because this book is bad, but because it is so good that I’m not sure anything that I write here will be able to do it justice.

There are very few books that make me want to rewatch the movie, reread the book, and track down the second volume immediately after finishing the first, but never has a work of nonfiction fallen into this category.

The Astronomer, by Vermeer. This was a favorite of Hitler’s, and shows up several times in the book.

Yet that is exactly what this book did. It was completely mind blowing, reading about these events, these men and women, these heroes. What they accomplished, and how the world would be different without them.

Imagine a world with no Vermeer, no Durer. Where the only images of the Mona Lisa are grainy, black and white pre-war photos.

Even studying conservation, we barely scratched the surface. Most of the events and names in this book were completely unknown to me, but now I wish that I could go back and see and study it all again with this new set of eyes. The museums that I learned from as a student would have been very different places indeed if not for the work of this small group of people.

While The Astronomer might have been Hitler’s Holy Grail, for the Monuments Men it was recovering the Bruges Madonna (above), and the Ghent Altarpiece.

Edsel’s research is impeccable, and the few liberties he has taken to set the scene for various events are masterfully done. Initially, I listened to the audio book version (which is excellent, by the way) but I wanted to get a visual copy so that I could see the source materials and photos that accompany the text. (I eventually wound up with the kindle edition, which was about half price compared to the paperback and about 75% of the hardback.)

At various points, I’ve made faces, laughed, or shed a tear as I read or listened to a book, but as I listed to Monuments Men, there were points where I simply stopped and listened, completely awestruck as the narrator detailed the events of a particular battle, the condition of a painting, and the struggles that the soldiers and conservators faced.

This book is the story of a small group of people with little support, no budget, and a shit load of wits and courage, managed to preserve and recover the culture of an entire continent at a time when entire cities were being reduced to holes in the ground.

You don’t need an arts background to enjoy this book, but if you have one, then put it at the top of your to read list. Without The Monuments Men, the world would be a very different place.