Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis

Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis

4.3 13
by Robert M. Edsel
     
 

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From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Monuments Men
"An astonishing account of a little-known American effort to save Italy's…art during World War II."—Tom Brokaw
When Hitler’s armies occupied Italy in 1943, they also seized control of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures. As they had done throughout Europe, the

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Overview

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Monuments Men
"An astonishing account of a little-known American effort to save Italy's…art during World War II."—Tom Brokaw
When Hitler’s armies occupied Italy in 1943, they also seized control of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures. As they had done throughout Europe, the Nazis could now plunder the masterpieces of the Renaissance, the treasures of the Vatican, and the antiquities of the Roman Empire.
On the eve of the Allied invasion, General Dwight Eisenhower empowered a new kind of soldier to protect these historic riches. In May 1944 two unlikely American heroes—artist Deane Keller and scholar Fred Hartt—embarked from Naples on the treasure hunt of a lifetime, tracking billions of dollars of missing art, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Titian, Caravaggio, and Botticelli. With the German army retreating up the Italian peninsula, orders came from the highest levels of the Nazi government to transport truckloads of art north across the border into the Reich. Standing in the way was General Karl Wolff, a top-level Nazi officer. As German forces blew up the magnificent bridges of Florence, General Wolff commandeered the great collections of the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, later risking his life to negotiate a secret Nazi surrender with American spymaster Allen Dulles.Brilliantly researched and vividly written, the New York Times bestselling Saving Italy brings readers from Milan and the near destruction of The Last Supper to the inner sanctum of the Vatican and behind closed doors with the preeminent Allied and Axis leaders: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Churchill; Hitler, Göring, and Himmler.An unforgettable story of epic thievery and political intrigue, Saving Italy is a testament to heroism on behalf of art, culture, and history.

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Editorial Reviews

Carlo D’Este
“An amazing story, superbly told.”
Timothy Potts
“Edsel’s recovery of the history of the Monuments Men makes for a remarkable and fascinating story. As more recent conflicts have shown, the havoc that war can wreak upon our artistic heritage has unfortunately not diminished and there are important lessons in this book for policy makers and all who care about the preservation of the world’s artistic legacy for future generations.”
Matthew Price - Newsday
“A teeming work…by an author passionate about his subject.”
Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller
“A suspenseful tale worthy of an Indiana Jones plot. He pulls you into a dangerous web of intrigue in which the Vatican, top German SS generals, American OSS operatives and Italian officials are entwined in top-secret negotiations to end the war. A must read for any WWII history enthusiast.”
Andrew Nagorski - Washington Post
“Dramatic…lively narrative.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Riveting narrative history.”
Hugh Eakin - Wall Street Journal
“Revealing…That the Monuments Men were able to do as much as they did, amid a war with more urgent priorities is remarkable.”
Noah Charney - Daily Beast
“An absorbing, thoroughly researched gallop of a history book.”
The Washington Post - Andrew Nagorski
At the heart of Edsel's lively narrative are the two most important art specialists dispatched to Italy in 1943: Deane Keller, 42 that year, a Yale art professor with an in-depth knowledge of Italy, and Fred Hartt, 29, a rising star of the Yale University Art Gallery. Because Keller was self-effacing while Hartt was expansive and attracted publicity, the two were occasionally at odds. But they shared the same passionate commitment to their mission…how they largely succeeded makes for a riveting read.
Publishers Weekly
In this thrilling new history, Edsel (The Monuments Men) describes the valiant Allied efforts to safeguard the great cultural treasures of an Italy knee-deep in the violence of WWII. The story focuses on three groups: the British and American scholars who form the Allies’ Monuments, Fine Art and Archive (MFAA) team tasked with finding and protecting priceless stolen artworks; the Vatican clergy and museum directors responsible for the safety of their own collections; and the Nazi leaders who coveted Italy’s Titians, da Vincis, and Botticellis. The cast of colorful characters includes an “introverted, sensitive” Yale art professor, a conflicted former archaeologist turned SS officer, and a Tuscan “Superintendent of Monuments and Galleries” whose job it was to get the great artworks out of Florence (where they risked being destroyed by Allied bombings) and into the countryside. Edsel has compiled an astonishing amount of primary research from European and American sources to tell this fascinating, fast-paced story, and military and art historians, as well as fans of adventurous nonfiction, will appreciate this well-written and informative reminder that war threatens not only the generations who fight it, but also the artistic triumphs of those who came before. 60 illus. & maps. Agent: Michelle Weiner, Creative Artists Agency. (May)
Carlo D'Este
“An amazing story, superbly told. The narrative and research are exceptionally well done. Edsel has done a great service not only to tell the story of the Monuments Men and the work they did in Italy but also to remind mankind what the Germans did. I believe that Saving Italy is a major contribution to the history of World War II.”
Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller
“Robert Edsel weaves a suspenseful tale worthy of an Indiana Jones plot. He pulls you into a dangerous web of intrigue in which the Vatican, top German SS generals, American OSS operatives and Italian officials are entwined in top-secret negotiations to end the war. A must read for any WWII history enthusiast.”
Hugh Ambrose
“Eventually the deranged plots of the Nazis called forth a new breed of adversary, their college degrees in art and antiquities hardly imposing yet suddenly critical, their extraordinary confrontation with evil quickly proving capable, in this inspired account, of recasting the war in Italy into a barn-burner of a history.”
Hugh Eakin - The Wall Street Journal
“Revealing…. That the Monuments Men were able to do as much as they did, amid a war with more urgent priorities is remarkable….”
James D. Hornfischer
“As Robert Edsel shows us in this valuable book, the artistic patrimony of the western world was a hostage to Hitler’s legions in 1945. Saving Italy rescues an unlikely troop of American heroes from obscurity, chronicling the exploits of a band of art professors working for the U.S. military as they saved Tuscany’s masterworks, museums and cathedrals from oblivion as Nazi Germany’s southern flank crumbled.”
Tom Brokaw
“Saving Italy is an astonishing account of a little known American effort to save Italy’s vast store of priceless monuments and art during World War II. While American warriors were fighting the length of the country, other Americans were courageously working alongside to preserve the irreplaceable best of Italy’s culture. Read it and be proud of those who were on their own front lines of a cruel war.”
Susan Eisenhower
“Robert Edsel has written a captivating, and at times hair-raising, book on the audacious Allied effort during World War II to save the priceless art treasurers in Italy. It is impossible to imagine what Western civilization would be today without these cultural masterpieces. Edsel has written a gripping, heroic story of the Monuments Men who saved them from certain destruction.”
Alsadair Palmer - The Mail on Sunday
“Edsel is very good on how the officers charged with identifying what had happened to Italy’s art went about their work. He gives a vivid flavor of what life must have been like as they searched among the ruins.”
Library Journal
The victim of bombing, looting, and neglect, Italy both during and after the Allied invasion of World War II was a dangerous place for works of art and architecture. Members of a small Allied unit, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (members were later nicknamed the "Monuments Men"), worked to save whatever they could even as the war raged around them. Edsel (The Monuments Men) concentrates on the work of these men as they sought to protect frescoes and monuments across Italy from Allied bombs. The author's use of memoirs, letters, and published reports brings out the voices of those involved. The book proceeds at a satisfying clip, with its final chapters forming a suspenseful narrative of the surrender of the Nazi forces in Italy. VERDICT Edsel's previous Monuments Men focused on this group's work in France, the UK, and northern Europe. Readers, especially those with some knowledge and love of Italian Renaissance art, will find this a satisfying complement to that book. A page-turner for a general history reader who enjoys art history, this is a lighter read than Ilaria Dagnini Brey's The Venus Fixers: The Untold Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II, which gives a fuller picture with more points of reference.—Jessica Spears, Cooper Union Lib., New York
Kirkus Reviews
Edsel (The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, 2009, etc.) continues his work chronicling the small band of artists and art historians who tracked down and saved Europe's artistic heritage, this time focusing on Italy. During World War II, Hitler and Göring led the greatest looting operation of the 20th century. Nazi Germany justified its practice of absorbing art treasures of Western Europe and Russia as spoils of war--but Italy was an ally. After the destruction of Naples by the fleeing Germans, the leader of the Kunstschutz, the "art protection" unit, was ordered to Italy to guard her works of art. Instead, art was removed from carefully arranged hiding places in the countryside and taken to the north for "protection." The author focuses on the work of art professor Dean Keller and art historian Fred Hartt of the American Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section. These two men, who had overwhelming passion for Italy and her enormous artistic heritage, chased into cities before the fires of war had barely cooled, designating which areas were to be protected until secured. It was only through Keller's work with a team of army engineers, fresco specialists and Italian military that we are able today to see the frescoes of Pisa's Camposanto, blown off the walls by Allied bombs. Both men worked their way up the peninsula from Sicily, but their concentration was in Tuscany. Curiously enough, they were aided by Gen. Karl Wolff, the SS leader in Italy--whether it was his love of art or self-protection as the end of the war loomed is a matter for debate. Edsel's knowledge and appreciation of art amplifies this celebration of the unheralded group of men who ensured the safety of Italy's greatest treasures.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393348804
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/03/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
128,203
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

What People are saying about this

Susan Eisenhower
Robert Edsel has written a captivating, and at times hair-raising, book on the audacious Allied effort during World War II to save the priceless art treasurers in Italy. It is impossible to imagine what Western civilization would be today without these cultural masterpieces. Edsel has written a gripping, heroic story of the Monuments Men who saved them from certain destruction.
Tom Brokaw
Saving Italy is an astonishing account of a little known American effort to save Italy’s vast store of priceless monuments and art during World War II. While American warriors were fighting the length of the country, other Americans were courageously working alongside to preserve the irreplaceable best of Italy’s culture. Read it and be proud of those who were on their own front lines of a cruel war.

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