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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession (2009)

by Allison Hoover Bartlett

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2,6771815,550 (3.42)1 / 181
Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

In the tradition of The Orchid Thief, a compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him.

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.

John 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.

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Showing 1-5 of 179 (next | show all)
A fairly bland, surface account of a rare book thief who doesn't particularly stand out in terms of methods, targets, motives, or psychology. He's a common-or-garden kleptomaniac with a sideline in narcissism. Why Allison Hoover Bartlett singled him out as worthy of a book's worth of attention remains somewhat of a mystery—is it too cynical of me to wonder if she focused on him because he lived (and was incarcerated) within easy distance of her? Hoover Bartlett doesn't bring much by way of interesting reflection to the topic of bibliomania (It takes her much of the book to reach the conclusion that print books persist even in the digital age because people have sentimental attachments to physical things. Fancy that), and her historical contextualisation is often weak or garbled ("After book burnings in the Middle Ages, knowledge of traditional medicine had been lost, so at the time of the Kräutterbuch's publication, in 1630, the book was a way to return to the old ways of healing, revolutionary for its time." Huh? There weren't mass burnings of herbals in the Middle Ages, we have many such manuscripts.) ( )
  siriaeve | May 10, 2024 |
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. ( )
  Valerie.Michigan | May 1, 2024 |
This book is a great example of why "don't judge a book by it's cover" goes both ways. At first glance, everything about it appealed to me: the collection of antique books, the mystery man, the subtitle: "true story!" "detective!" "literary obsession!" The title was ridiculous, but I was willing to overlook that. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed.

In short, this book was rarely engaging.

In long, it could have been so much more. For starters, I found myself annoyed with the author at every turn. Part of this is personal---while she may like to read, she doesn't LOVE books. She doesn't understand the mind of a collector. She doesn't get why someone would forego decent groceries in order to keep themselves stocked in books. I suppose I shouldn't fault her for that...but I do. The other thing that bugged me the most was the constant switching between Gilkey's and Sanders's story lines, peppered with random pop-ups of random stories that didn't follow Gilkey or Sanders. It seems the author couldn't decide what kind of a book she wanted to write, but she knew she wanted it to be about book thieves. Oh, and book collecting. Oh yeah, and other bookish stuff to help fill space. This idea could possibly work somewhere in some book---but in this one, it's very choppy and convoluted.

I started this new paragraph to get away from picking on the author...but there's actually more. She's a mix of pushy, naive and flighty, in a senior-class-president sort of way. She comes across as super narrow-minded on page 112 when she says, "It occurred to me how unusual it is to see a person of color at a rare book fair or store. This has been an old-white-man's game for a long time, but it appeared, at that moment, that perhaps things were changing." First off, she makes it clear in other places that hanging out at rare book fairs and stores has never been her thing before researching this book so she's making dumb assumptions with no proof. Secondly, does she think 21st century San Francisco has been the book-buying hub of the universe for the last 500 years? Does she not realize that there are, and have been, rare books being bought, the world over, by people from all cultures---most of them NOT rich white guys from Cali? Ugh.

Moving on to the story...there were some interesting parts, for sure. I especially liked learning about the different amazing books that are out there and how much they're worth. It was crushing to hear how much theft goes on and goes unreported. I also found myself asking if I could ever bring myself to steal a book I desperately wanted. I decided that I wouldn't---but the desire would be there. Deeply.

I could relate to those who would pay a seemingly outrageous price for a coveted book---but I couldn't relate to Gilkey. His motives for stealing the books were never clearly laid out by the author, though I got the feeling that she was attempting to make them known. She threw in a mention once or twice that he enjoyed reading...but, you know...

I got the impression that Gilkey wasn't necessarily enamored of books in particular---he'd just found an obsession and latched on. I found it frustrating that the author didn't dig more deeply into the mental issues that were so obviously there. She barely touched the idea of his mental state, deciding he must be fine since a judge had ruled that way "that one time"... A study of the disorders that would cause a person to act in ALL the weird ways Gilkey did would have been really beneficial to this story and would have helped flesh out the character a bit.

The book ends without one knowing it. A little Gilkey ramble and then she's done. I can't describe how utterly irritated I am with this woman's writing. The only consolation is that the book is short. I wanted to abandon it so many times, but had already invested several nights to slogging through it by the time I was really ready to chuck it across the attic. ( )
  classyhomemaker | Dec 11, 2023 |
For the most part I enjoyed this book. It was a ripping yarn, well researched and well written however a disappointing ending prevented this from being a 5 star book. As a collector I could relate to some of the madness but the complete lack of morality of the thief left me stumped. Could someone be so full of guile, a rat cunning genius or were they mentally impaired and dead lucky? It did make me wonder. The book provided wonderful insights into the history and personalities of rare book collectors and dealers. I was a little disappointed that many collectors have no interest in actually reading their quarry but then I don't collect rare books and see books as an opportunity to immerse myself in other worlds through the stories within. I don't need first editions or even ownership to enjoy books. Parts of this book were excerpted in a Best American Crime Anthology and the author's tactful and remarkable access to a criminal was amazing. The author walked a tightrope between being a reporter or being an accessory to crime. A very interesting book, recommended for book lovers. ( )
  secondhandrose | Oct 31, 2023 |
An interesting, somewhat creepy book. ( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
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Epigraph
For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner ... let him be struck with palsy, & all his members blasted ... Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.
—Anathama in a medieval manuscripts from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona
I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys half-way around the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.
—A. S. W. Rosenbach, twentieth century book dealer
Dedication
For John, Julian, and Sonja
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Prologue
At one end of my desk sits a nearly four-hundred-year-old book cloaked in a tan linen sack and a good deal of mystery.
Chapter 1
April 28, 2005, was bright and mild, the kind of spring day in New York City that seems full of promise, and on the corner of Park Avenue and East Sixty-sixth Street a queue of optimistic people was growing.
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Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

In the tradition of The Orchid Thief, a compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him.

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.

John 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.

.

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Book description
Unrepentant book thief Gilkey has stolen a fortune in rare books from around the country. Yet unlike most thieves, who steal for profit, Gilkey steals for love--the love of books. Perhaps equally obsessive, though, is Ken Sanders, the self-appointed "bibliodick" driven to catch him. Sanders, a lifelong rare book collector and dealer turned amateur detective, will stop at nothing to catch the thief plaguing his trade.

In following both of these eccentric characters, journalist Allison Hoover Barlett plnged deep into a world of fanatical book lust, and ultimately found herself caught between the many people interested in finding Gilkey's stolen treasure, and the man who wanted to keep it hidden: the thief himself.

With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, Bartlett has woven this cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his crimes and how Sanders eventually caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. All collectors have stories of what first made them fall in love, and Gilkey and Sanders are no different. Bartlett puts their stories into the larger context of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages. [from book jacket]
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Allison Hoover Bartlett's book The Man Who Loved Books Too Much was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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Allison Hoover Bartlett is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Allison Hoover Bartlett chatted with LibraryThing members from Oct 22, 2009 to Oct 30, 2009. Read the chat.

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