One had guardedly high hopes for George Clooney’s recently-released film The Monuments Men, and indeed he surely deserves great credit for bringing their story to a mass audience.

But one knew going in that it might prove impossible to conflate their diverse personalities and far-flung activities into a linear dramatic narrative. So one hoped that at least the film might rise to the level of a Saving Private Ryan, a Schindler’s List or even the 2004 The Alamo – an experience that would, whatever its limitations, leave us saying: yes, this is as close as we’ll ever come to seeing what the reality must have been like. Alas, it was not to be.

Yet the story remains an intensely important one, as the recent discovery of a billion dollars in looted art in a Munich apartment demonstrates. It is simply that the Nazis, in addition to being the most systematic mass murderers in history, were also its most rapacious yet meticulously organized art thieves. And that as the Allies reclaimed Europe, an eclectic assortment of art historians, curators and artists were deployed both to save the west’s artistic patrimony from destruction by war, and to find and repatriate the vast horde of treasures stolen by the Nazis – most particularly from Europe’s doomed Jews.

I can recommend two outstanding resources that provide a more complete introduction to the story – which is equally that of the victims, and of the European heroes who struggled to preserve their nations’ art heritage long before the Allies arrived. One is Robert Edsel’s superbly illustrated book Rescuing da Vinci; the other is Lynn Nicholas’ powerful documentary film The Rape of Europa, elegantly narrated by Joan Allen. (The film was actually Mr. Edsel’s inspiration.)

Thereafter, should you become as captivated by this drama as I was (and am), you’ll want to look at Mr. Edsel’s two subsequent books, The Monuments Men and the very recent Saving Italy. And when, as it surely will, The Rape of Europa draws you into the gallant struggle of the late Maria Altmann to recover Klimt’s iconic portrait of her aunt – “our Mona Lisa,” Leonard Lauder has called it – you’ll find yourself all but compelled to read Anne-Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold.

©2014 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission. Nick highlights new books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download the new 2014 sample issue, visit and click on “Newsletter.”