Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis
By Robert M. Edsel. 480 pp. Norton, 2013. $28.95.
Author Robert M. Edsel (Monuments Men, Rescuing Da Vinci) is a man on a mission: tell the world about the heroic efforts of bare handfuls of Allied specialists, who faced overwhelming odds to save the unthinkable mass of art treasures stolen and hoarded by the Nazis. This time out, his focus is Italy, a poor country with an unparalleled wealth of cultural artifacts. At the center of his scintillating tale is a vivid band of art professors turned military semi-regulars who strive mightily to recover Tuscany’s legacy from Nazi plundering and destruction while sidestepping the Allied military’s proclivity to sniff at or block their aims.
Edsel tells a compelling story, clearly fueled by the passion he shares with his heroes for the West’s cultural heritage. In the process, he reminds us that the Allies— despite (or perhaps because of?) blunders like destroying Monte Cassino, and periodic lower-echelon pushbacks against the Monuments Men—shared a larger vision of humanity and its works that was utterly different from the Reich’s.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.