2 out of 5 stars.
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Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.
Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed “bibliodick” (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him.
Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them.
Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.
The Man who Loved Books too much: the true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett is unfortunately not the fascinating tale I was hoping for. I thought perhaps I was biased in my opinion because I had just finished Flawless, but then I read other reviews and found others who felt the same way.
I was hoping that this book would at least bring a glimpse of the not-so-nice side of the rare-book trade and collecting, but no, you didn’t get that at all. Our main character, John Charles Gilkey is not as fascinating as Ms. Bartlett seems to find him. He’s a thief. He’s not noble thief; he steals simply because he wants the book. He’s not a particularly smart thief either; he simply uses a stolen credit card or writes a bad check. He’s just your run-of-the-mill thief.
Maybe I would have been okay with that portion of the tale if I really believed the man actually loved the books. He doesn’t. He feels entitled to have them, so he steals them. It’s not about the artwork on/in a first edition; it’s about the prestige that comes from owning that first edition. It’s not about the stories inside the covers either. He doesn’t seem to care about that either. He simply feels like wealthy people should have a large library and therefore he’s entitled to what he wants to have.
This book was unfortunately, totally disappointing and I do not recommend it.