*** Monument Men by Robert Edsel

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History could easily be a sugary, romanced story of American heroism during WWII — but it is not, although it occasionally paints (;)) a Manichean picture of Nazi actions and characters.

It tells the story of a small group of men (all men, alas, although some of the crucial supporting characters are women)  who were tasked with locating, identifying, and returning art work stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners. With a tiny team and scarce resources, they visited hidden caches in private cellars as well as vast salt mines transformed into enormous warehouses, exploiting the well-kept records of the Nazis while needing to gain the trust of the victims who had learned to resist and conceal and were often, understandably, leery of sharing their secrets. The author chose to draw vivid portraits of the men and included personal correspondence between them and their families, which gives glimpses of everyday life during the war, both for soldiers and the families back home. Well done.

(If you are worried that FT Books has succumbed to rating inflation in the new year, fear not. I just read a wonderful series of wonderful books. I remain unafraid to assign one-star ratings when deemed necessary!)

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