The Amber Room: The Fate of the Worlds Greatest Lost Treasure

The Amber Room: The Fate of the Worlds Greatest Lost Treasure

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by Adrian Levy
     
 

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The history of art has produced few works as ambitious and as valuable as the Amber Room. Famous throughout Europe as "the eighth wonder of the world," its vast and intricately worked amber panels were sent in 1717 by Frederick I of Prussia as a gift to Peter the Great of Russia. Erected some years later, they quickly became a symbol of Russias imperial might.
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Overview

The history of art has produced few works as ambitious and as valuable as the Amber Room. Famous throughout Europe as "the eighth wonder of the world," its vast and intricately worked amber panels were sent in 1717 by Frederick I of Prussia as a gift to Peter the Great of Russia. Erected some years later, they quickly became a symbol of Russias imperial might.

For more than two hundred years the Amber Room remained in its Russian palace outside St. Petersburg (Leningrad), but when the Nazi army invaded Russia and swept towards Leningrad in 1941, the panels were wrenched from the walls, packed into crates, and disappeared from view, never to be seen again.

Dozens of people have tried to trace the whereabouts of the Amber Room, and several of them have died in mysterious circumstances. Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark have gone further along the trail of this great lost treasure than anyone before them, and have unraveled the jumble of evidence surrounding its fate. Their search catapulted them across eastern Europe and into the menacing world of espionage and counterespionage that still surrounds Russia and the former Soviet bloc. In archives in St. Petersburg and Berlin, amid boxes of hitherto unseen diaries, letters, and classified reports, they have uncovered for the first time an astounding conspiracy to hide the truth.

In a gripping climax that is a triumph of detection and narrative journalism, The Amber Room shows incontrovertibly what really happened to the most valuable lost artwork in the world, and why the truth has been withheld for so long.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1717, Prussian emperor Frederick I presented Peter the Great with a remarkable treasure: enough wall-sized panels covered with meticulously carved amber to decorate an entire room. Eventually installed in a palace near St. Petersburg, the Amber Room was stolen by the Nazis during the 1941 siege of Leningrad and hidden in Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad)-after which little is certain. Levy and Scott-Clark (The Stone of Heaven) devote as much space to their efforts to sift through the sparse evidence as to their reconstructions, and though the story line is a bit muddled early on, when they also try to squeeze in the room's history, they eventually find a comfortable balance. Digging through files from former Soviet museums and the East German secret police, they retrace previous investigations and slowly realize just how valuable the missing room was to the Soviets as Cold War propaganda. Even after the collapse of communism, its potential recovery continues to stoke the flames of Russians' memories of the Great Patriotic War, and the probe raises important (though unfortunately unanswered) questions about the Red Army's activities as the war wound down in Europe. The pair of investigative journalists never quite manages to distract readers from the inevitable failure of their search, so the probable fate of the room, when finally broached, may strike some as anticlimactic. However, the authors do offer an intriguing peek at the inner workings of Soviet bloc espionage-along with a detour into the avariciousness of some contemporary Russians. 50 b&w images, 3 maps. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
One of the more enduring mysteries of lost treasures has been that of the Amber Room-a room in the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, outside of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), that was lined with amber panels given to Peter the Great in 1717 by Frederick I of Prussia. The panels disappeared during the 1941 Nazi invasion and have never been seen since. Levy and Scott-Clark (investigative journalists for the Guardian and coauthors, The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade) present the tortuous story of what they believe happened to this "eighth wonder of the world." Illustrated with 50 black-and-white images and three maps, the narrative begins with the order issued on June 22, 1941, from Lengorispolkom (Leningrad's executive committee) to evacuate the area's treasures and investigates the trail of misleading and sometimes contradictory accounts of that evacuation. The authors' conclusion: belief that the Amber Room survived, hidden by the Nazis in Thuringia, Saxony, or Kaliningrad, is untenable. It never left Leningrad. Instead, it was destroyed by the Red Army in April 1945 after the German surrender of the city. The "great untruth" propagated by Soviet authorities, they suggest, perpetuated the Soviet belief in the victimization of the East at the hands of the West. Given their careful documentation of sources, including previously unseen archives, manuscripts, and private papers, the conclusion is plausible, but the absence of eyewitness reports leaves enough doubt to instill hope in the romantic. Recommended for larger public libraries, especially those with an interest in World War II and its aftermath.-Robert C. Jones, Warrensburg, MO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This title might seem at first to be small-scale popular history, telling the tale of one of the more ornate artifacts of the 18th century. Yet the Amber Room is even more noteworthy for its historical importance. Originally designed for and begun by the Prussian royal family, it was still unfinished when they gave it to Peter the Great of Russia; it was completed and assembled in the lifetime of his successor, Catherine the Great. In 1941, the Germans overran the palace into which the room was fitted and it was moved to Konigsberg, only to disappear as the Third Reich collapsed and the German city fell to the Red Army. The book details the hunt for the Amber Room, which has involved persons from Russia and both Germanys as well as one well-connected Russian emigre, a host of magazines, various spies, and occasional outbursts of popular enthusiasm. This alone makes for a gripping tale, but as the book progresses it becomes apparent that there is another level to this treasure hunt. The modern-day searchers, the authors and their allies, must deal with the agendas of previous hunters and of the guardians of the archives. Clear maps and average-quality photos are included. This engrossing book combines history, detection, and adventure.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two British journalists search for a legendary Russian treasure, missing since WWII. The authors (The Stone of Heaven, 2002) begin in Leningrad, the former tsarist capital, where, in June 1941, Hitler's armies arrived. The staff of the Soviet museums made a valiant effort to rescue the artifacts from the looting Germans. Perhaps the greatest of those treasures was the amber room, given to Tsar Peter I in 1717 by Frederick William, King of Prussia. Made of the fossilized resin of prehistoric plants, the smoky panels of its walls stood 12 feet high, molded and carved in high baroque style. Anatoly Kuchumov, the young Soviet curator in charge of the room, decided to conceal it, hoping the Germans would miss it. No such luck: within three days, the Germans found and dismantled it, shipping it back to Konigsberg, the Prussian city near which much of the world's supply of amber is found. There it lay until 1945, when the Red Army came, seeking the return of looted Russian treasures. There the mystery begins. The first Soviet authority sent to investigate reported that the amber room had been destroyed; Kuchumov, following up shortly afterwards, claimed to find evidence that the Nazis had removed it to a safe place-but where? The authors interviewed witnesses and experts in Russia, Germany, and Konigsberg. The trail led through archives of the hated East German Stasi, hard-to-obtain documents in Russian research libraries, and to various shadowy figures willing to trade their questionable information for hard cash. In the end, they arrive at a conclusion that challenges the official versions (there are several) of the amber room's final fate. Their answer may disappoint, but their account of thestrange and twisting journey is well worth it. A fascinating look into Soviet-era politics, through the lens of art history. Author tour

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802718099
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
05/26/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
571,788
File size:
11 MB
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Meet the Author

Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark are internationally renowned investigative journalists for the Guardian in London, and have been nominated three times for the British Press Awards. They are the authors of The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade. They live in London and Thailand.
Adrian Levy is an internationally renowned and award-winning investigative journalist who worked as a staff writer and foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times of London for seven years before joining the Guardian as senior correspondent. He is co-author, with Catherine Scott-Clark, of two highly acclaimed books, The Amber Room: The Fate of the Worlds Greatest Lost Treasure, and The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade. He hasreported from South Asia for more than a decade, and now lives in London and in France.

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