These five long essays display the same spare, unpretentious style that characterized Janet Flanner's celebrated "Letter From Paris" columns in The New Yorker. Her profiles of Andre Malraux, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso are vivid portraits of artists and men, refreshingly free of both tabloid gossip and the stilted jargon of academic art criticism.
The most intriguing piece in the book is a trio of linked essays documenting the Nazi theft and destruction of European art during World War II and the efforts of the Allied "Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives" team to repatriate the plundered treasures. The sheer scale of the Nazi looting staggers the imagination, although their taste was often execrable. Flanner gleefully describes how Goering paid a record sum for a "Vermeer" so recently faked that the paint was barely dry. Her account of these crimes is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive, like a serpent's gaze.