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Thieves of Book Row: New York's Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the… (2013)

by Travis McDade

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16716143,595 (3.5)13
No one had ever tried a caper like this before. The goods were kept in a secure room under constant scrutiny, deep inside a crowded building with guards at the exits. The team picked for the job included two old hands known only as Paul and Swede, but all depended on a fresh face, a kid fromPinetown, North Carolina. In the Depression, some fellows were willing to try anything - even a heist in the rare book room of the New York Public Library.In Thieves of Book Row, Travis McDade tells the gripping tale of the worst book-theft ring in American history, and the intrepid detective who brought it down. Author of The Book Thief and a curator of rare books, McDade transforms painstaking research into a rich portrait of Manhattan's Book Row inthe 1920s and '30s, where organized crime met America's cultural treasures in dark and crowded shops along gritty Fourth Avenue. Dealers such as Harry Gold, a tough native of the Lower East Side, became experts in recognizing the value of books and recruiting a pool of thieves to steal them - manyof them unemployed men who drifted up the Bowery or huddled around fires in Central Park's shantytowns. When Paul and Swede brought a new recruit into his shop, Gold trained him for the biggest score yet: a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. Gold's recruit casedthe rare-book room for weeks, searching for a weakness. When he found one, he struck, leading to a breathtaking game of wits between Gold and NYPL special investigator G. William Bergquist.Both a fast-paced, true-life thriller, Thieves of Book Row provides a fascinating look at the history of crime and literary culture.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I abandoned this book, so take my review with a grain of salt.

The meandering anecdotes never combined into a good narrative. It just felt like a bunch of strung together little stories, rather than one big one. Perhaps if I had continued reading, I would have found the big story (as one of the other reviewers suggests), but I read about a third of the book, and never found it.

While the stories were interesting, after a few chapters, they just started getting repetitive. And I lost interest. Might be good for people with a big interest in New York City or the book business. ( )
  evenlake | Mar 23, 2021 |
A lot of fun. Some great characters, great stories, and a truly evocative picture of 4th Avenue/"Book Row" in its book selling heyday. Despite it being quite a good read, it can't live up to its lofty subtitle. At no point was it demonstrated that there was a "ring" anywhere past a market that good thieves and bent sellers capitalized on. And it really only spends a chapter or two on Berquist, the ostensible "man" of the title. Anyway, it's a fun read but it's really more a series of interconnected vignettes or articles than a true narrative. Book lovers and collectors will love it. ( )
  eswnr | Apr 10, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A fun and interesting read about the early days of the 20th century in the book trade. This was a time where books were stolen from libraries then they were scrubbed of all labels and marks and made their way into the secondary book trade. ( )
  bknrd | Jun 22, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is written as a (late) review for LTER. While I enjoyed the overall information imparted in this book, I did not find it too well laid out. It skipped around to different times and characters a little too randomly in my opinion. It also did not seem to have a continuity of story from beginning to middle to end following an investigation into the overall theft ring.
One bit of information I found shocking was the prices paid for some of these rare books! Tens of thousands of dollars and more which to my mind seems like alot in today's dollars.
I did learn much I did not know before, but had hoped to be more entertained while learning it. ( )
  jldarden | Apr 29, 2014 |
Full disclosure: I assisted the author by reading and commenting on an early draft of this book, and am acknowledged within.

Travis McDade's Thieves of Book Row: New York's Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It (Oxford University Press, 2013) is the meticulously-researched account of one of the worst (if not the worst) book theft rings in American history, a loosely-connected web of thieves and the unscrupulous booksellers who benefited from their actions (or, in some cases, were the masterminds behind the thefts). The thieves struck libraries throughout the Northeast, but their loot typically ended up in New York, among the bookstores of the city's famed Book Row.

The story is a complex one, with lots of characters, a wide geographic spread, and more than a bit of legal detail to be navigated. McDade manages it admirably, though the most casual of readers may be a bit put off by the ins and outs of the theft cases he recounts. As someone who takes much interest in stories like this, I was more than happy with the level of detail (in fact, I was absolutely delighted by it).

McDade captures very well the somewhat tense relations between booksellers and librarians during the period under consideration (something which has in the intervening decades changed markedly for the better), and the important ways in which police and judicial attention play into the ultimate disposition of book theft cases, then as now. And he does an excellent job at explaining the way(s) the theft ring did its dirty business, how investigators ultimately were able to at least remove some of its most active participants from the scene, and some of the policy changes libraries implemented as a result of these thefts (which of course haven't stopped thefts from libraries, but at least have made them somewhat more difficult).

An important look at this dark period of American bookselling history. ( )
  JBD1 | Nov 24, 2013 |
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No one had ever tried a caper like this before. The goods were kept in a secure room under constant scrutiny, deep inside a crowded building with guards at the exits. The team picked for the job included two old hands known only as Paul and Swede, but all depended on a fresh face, a kid fromPinetown, North Carolina. In the Depression, some fellows were willing to try anything - even a heist in the rare book room of the New York Public Library.In Thieves of Book Row, Travis McDade tells the gripping tale of the worst book-theft ring in American history, and the intrepid detective who brought it down. Author of The Book Thief and a curator of rare books, McDade transforms painstaking research into a rich portrait of Manhattan's Book Row inthe 1920s and '30s, where organized crime met America's cultural treasures in dark and crowded shops along gritty Fourth Avenue. Dealers such as Harry Gold, a tough native of the Lower East Side, became experts in recognizing the value of books and recruiting a pool of thieves to steal them - manyof them unemployed men who drifted up the Bowery or huddled around fires in Central Park's shantytowns. When Paul and Swede brought a new recruit into his shop, Gold trained him for the biggest score yet: a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. Gold's recruit casedthe rare-book room for weeks, searching for a weakness. When he found one, he struck, leading to a breathtaking game of wits between Gold and NYPL special investigator G. William Bergquist.Both a fast-paced, true-life thriller, Thieves of Book Row provides a fascinating look at the history of crime and literary culture.

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