Saturday, September 12, 2009

Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett


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.

I love to read but I am not a bibliophile.
Perhaps that is why I had trouble getting into this particular book.
Or maybe I just don't care for the subject matter.
And I don't mean collecting rare books.
I'm referring to thieves.

It's the true story of John Gilkey, a man who stole a fortune in rare books simply for the pleasure of owning them.
It's also the story of Ken Sanders,a book dealer/detective, who made it his mission to put John Gilkey and his like behind bars.

Gilkey is just like any other sociopath.
From the author's interviews, he presents as narcissistic, and totally unrepentant of his crimes, although he robbed legitimate collectors of their treasures.

He doesn't feel that what he's done is wrong,
and he repeatedly justifies himself for his deeds.
Even the simple act of being put on hold by an unsuspecting bookstore clerk
during a phone call, makes him feel validated in robbing the same store.

Not to mention all of the stolen credit card numbers he used to "purchase" the books with.
Anyone who has ever had their credit information stolen, and suffered fraudulent charges,and knows what a pain in the ass it is to straighten the mess out, will not feel empathy for this man.

I sometimes felt that the author was trying to (maybe unintentionally) romanticize this man, because after all, it's not like he was some drug-addled thug who stole simply to sell the books for profit.
He was a collector. He truly loved his acquisitions. He wanted to build himself a fine library.
He just didn't feel that he had to pay for his hobby like everyone else.

That having been said, I don't give a rats patooty how much he adores and cherishes books, he is nothing but a thief-plain and simple.
Frankly, I don't know if he was worth the couple of years this author spent interviewing him, let alone, writing a book about.
And those are my thoughts.

Like I said before, I'm not a bibliophile,
but as I also stated, I do love to read, so my thanks to Lydia from The Penguin Book Group for my review copy.
This book has a release date of September 17th.

About the author from

Allison Hoover Bartlett's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post,, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and the San Francisco Magazine, among others. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.


The Peach Tart said...

I've been looking at this book but haven't made the leap yet. I think I'll read it based on your review.

mandatorybloghere said...

oh thank you for this. i love your book reviews

Rachel Belle said...

I saw this book online didn't really appeal to me. Good review, though. I don't think I'll be reading this one. ;)

I left you 2 awards on my blog! (: