Reviews: Monuments Men & Popular

This week I have read two non-fiction books that I highly recommend. One was a movie and one might be made into a movie, but that’s where the similarities of these titles end.

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel is the story of allied forces hunting for the art stolen by the Nazis. And, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen follows the author through her 8th-grade year using the advice from a 1950’s guide to teen popularity.

The Monuments Men is the story which inspired the movie that many of you may have seen. I needed to know more, surprised and a little ashamed that my historical knowledge was so lacking about the extensive and astonishing movement of art into the hands of the Nazi’s from each country as it was invaded. The book follows the epic story of men in the allied forces who were assigned to find this art and return it to the proper owners amidst the danger of war. This was the world’s biggest treasure hunt as the men followed clues eventually leading them to salt mines and castles and the private homes of Nazi officials. I am in awe of the vastness of their job and not knowing it at the time, I have personally benefited by their hard work, enjoying so many of these wonderful treasures back in their places in museums across Europe.  What pains me greatly as I read this account is the art that was lost. Tragically, we know that many works by Klee, Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, Chagall, and others were labeled degenerate and burned in large bonfires. But, just last November 1400 pieces of art looted by the Nazis were found in a Munich apartment building. So for some of the missing pieces, there is hope that someday they might be found. 

While there were moments of levity in The Monuments Men, it was fun to read something less serious next. Picking up Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew the author Maya Van Wangenen was an 8th grader when she experimented with her (non-existent) social standing and followed the advice of a 1950’s guide to popularity.  Every month of her 8th–grade year, Maya follows a different bit of advice with sometimes hilarious consequences.  Her observations and unique take on the extremely complicated social hierarchy of middle school had me laughing out loud. She’s a wonderful, young writer, and I’m in awe of her ability to remain confident and self-possessed. Her biggest act of bravery? Sitting at a different lunch table until she’d made the rounds of every social group in her school.  Now, if you are older and have forgotten what it’s like to be in middle school or even high school, you will not understand that this is hugely brave and potentially dangerous to your well-being.  Maya makes the whole year an adventure and brings us along for the ride.  This smart story has now been optioned for a film by DreamWorks – making her the youngest non-actor to make a feature deal.  It would be a great movie!


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