Summary and book reviews of Saving Italy by Robert Edsel

Saving Italy

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

By Robert M. Edsel

Saving Italy
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  • Hardcover: May 2013,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2014,
    496 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Heather A Phillips

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Book Summary

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, 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.

PRELUDE
AUGUST 16, 1943

Padre Acerbi, a veteran of the Great War, passed another humid night in a Milan air-raid shelter with his Dominican brothers. He hoped the terrifying events of previous evenings would not be repeated. It was Sunday, August 15, 1943. That day he and his fellow citizens had held celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Ferragosto, one of Italy's most important national holidays. But the festivities had been muted. Acerbi prayed for a halt in the attacks, even if just for a few hours. The weary citizens of Milan needed sleep; so did his fellow monks.

At half past midnight, as the full moon began emerging from a partial lunar eclipse, the dreaded but familiar drone of the air-raid sirens began again. Previous raids had already caused hundreds of thousands of Milanese to evacuate. Twenty minutes after the sounding of sirens, they heard the airplanes overhead, then the muffled thunder of the first bombs. The ground tremored beneath ...

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As with any undertaking this large, the first sections Saving Italy set the stage and characters for the reader. Because of this, they are detail-heavy and do not move as quickly as the rest of the book. However this is merely a temporary status. Once the scene is set, what could have been a dull, dry exercise in an obscure area of history is rendered in vivid strokes by Edsel’s prose. He is adept in using the drama of real life to lend interest to his topic.   (Reviewed by Heather A Phillips).

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Media Reviews
Newsday

Saving Italy is a teeming work…by an author passionate about his subject

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….

Publishers Weekly

[A] 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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Author Blurb Evan Thomas, best-selling author of Ike's Bluff and Sea of Thunder
A poignant, fascinating story, bringing to life the soldier-scholars who saved Italy's treasures.

Author Blurb James D. Hornfischer, best-selling author of Neptune's Inferno
This valuable book rescues an unlikely troop of American heroes from obscurity.

Author Blurb Carlo D’Este, bestselling author of Patton: A Genius For War
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.

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The Restoration of The Last Supper

The Last Supper, completed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1498, is one of Western civilization's great cultural touchstones. Housed in the refectory of the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, this late 15th century work was commissioned as part of planned renovations to the convent and church buildings by da Vinci's patron, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The painting, which measures about 15 by 39 feet, depicts the desciple's immediate reactions following Christ's announcement that one of them will betray him before dawn. In spite of the emotional chaos that rings throughout the scene, the composition is ordered and serene. Christ's head is at the center of the composition, and the angling of the walls within the picture ...

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