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Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World Paperback – September 1, 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
That is the question at the heart of this carefully-crafted and insightful analysis of the ongoing battle of the ownership of antiquities from Greek, Egyptian and other ancient societies. Sharon Waxman has done an admirable job of covering the key personalities and issues, never allowing herself to be distracted and accomplishing the impossible -- taking a passionate view of the importance of these objects to art and history without losing sight that their is no simple answer to that fundamental question of their ownership.
Waxman profiles both sides of the debate, the activists and government officials in countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Italy who are lobbying for the return of everything from the Elgin Marbles (hacked off the Acropolis some two centuries ago) to unique Etruscan artifacts likely looted and smuggled overseas within the last decade. There are no heroes in this saga. Museum directors continue to duck the question of how some of the objects on display ended up in their galleries and argue that their collections form part of the broader "human heritage" that only institutions in giant Western cities from New York to Berlin can adequately care for and display. On the other side are those pressing for the return of these objects so that they can be displayed as part of the heritage of the country where they were created and, millennia later, rediscovered.
But... What happens when objects are repatriated? Waxman takes the reader to the site of nearly-empty museums in Luxor, Egypt and Antalya, Turkey, filled with precious objects but devoid of local visitors.Read more ›
The problem is in the endless nuances of how such laws should be implemented, and Waxman is of little help in trying to articulate and determine how those decisions should be made. Instead she bludgeons us with various chapters each focusing on a hero (trying to recover loot) or villain (museum personnel trying to keep the loot). Of course even the title provides a not-very-subtle clue as to Waxman's sympathies.
But my big problem with this book is that it reads like a collection of newspaper articles. Lots of interviews, virtually no historical research other than a tangent on Napoleon's grabing Egyptian artifacts for what would become the Louvre. And the chapter on the Getty and its travails is filled with who-slept-with-whom at the museum. Not terribly relevant to anything but the author's day job as far as I could tell.
But while this book provides little help in delineating possible global solutions to this issue, or even in framing the issues in a nuanced manner, she does ask the questions, and several months later, I find myself thinking of this subject each time I enter a museum. What should a museum purchase, and under what circumstances should it return a work to another country?
There are Notes related to page numbers at the end of the book. The note for page 32 - Chapter 2 FINDING ROSETTA - tells us that: "Biographical information on Napoleon Bonaparte is drawn from Flora E. S. Kaplan, `Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists and the Rediscovery of Egypt' (New York: Dahesh Museum of Art, 2006)..." This reference is to a 48 page catalogue of an exhibition of nineteenth-century paintings presented at the illusive Dahesh Museum of Art with an essay by its former curator Lisa Small, the exhibition's organizer. (Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan was the museum's director.) Is such a catalogue a reliable source for information about Napoleon in Egypt?
On page 55 we are told that Akhenaten "moved his capital from Thebes, today's Luxor, to a city he founded 150 miles to the south, a capital he called Akhetaten, known now as el Amarna." El-Amarna is actually north of Luxor. Furthermore, Wikipedia gives the distance from Luxor to el-Amarna as 250 miles.
On page 56 the author gives an inaccurate copy of a quote from page 139 of "Imperialism, Art and Restitution" claiming that it is from Ludwig Borchardt's 1912 diary. It is actually a translation of Borchardt's 1923 account "Porträts der Königin Nofret-ete" in "Ausgrabungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft im Tell el-Amarna".Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book becomes even more relevant today as antiquities are being destroyed in the Middle East. It is interesting and easy to read.Published 13 months ago by Charlotte Johnson
Great book. Very informative. Would like to see an update on this issue.Published 15 months ago by Linda Norton
Disappointment about the business of acquiring antiquities. Eye opening about the lack of respect and cooperation between museums.jPublished 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
A topic which is increasingly important. No clear answers to some of the questions. Will spark a good discussion in
a book club.
This is one of the most interesting books I think I have ever read. I can't say enough how well researched it was, amazing to know the movements, the reasons, the policies, the... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Carla Hashley
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It brings to the light so many problems that are facing museums today. Read morePublished 22 months ago by David H.
Very interesting account of the ethics and fights over "stolen" artifacts. Raises serious ethic questions about the Western attitudes about treasures from other cultures... Read morePublished on February 9, 2014 by Dr. R.P. Forsberg