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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun, exciting read
Very much a page-turner. Wittman's got a lot of great stories to tell about why we should appreciate art, how some government agencies have a warped sense of priorities and of course the fascinating ways in which some of the most infamous property crimes in history have played out and his role in them.

There are suave characters, misfit gangsters and plot...
Published on June 4, 2010 by C. W. Caspari Jr.

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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Factual
The most interesting elements of "Priceless" were the facts regarding art and art theft and the awe and respect with which the author describes the pieces he views and recovers.

"Americans, in particular, are said to be uncultured when it comes to high art, more likely to go to a ballpark than a museum. But as I tell my foreign colleagues, the statistics belie...
Published on July 11, 2010 by Karie Hoskins


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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun, exciting read, June 4, 2010
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Very much a page-turner. Wittman's got a lot of great stories to tell about why we should appreciate art, how some government agencies have a warped sense of priorities and of course the fascinating ways in which some of the most infamous property crimes in history have played out and his role in them.

There are suave characters, misfit gangsters and plot twists that can make you laugh or cry (depending on how much of an appreciation of art you may have - and if you don't have much of one, you will by the time you finish this book). Some of the "gangster talk" is right out of Hollywood; you wouldn't believe it if dialogue wasn't culled from bugged meet-ups and hidden video. But it's all real! And its told in a style that at times borders on gumshoe noir, which keeps the action lively.

Highly recommended for a fun summer read; I think anyone would enjoy this international thriller and might even learn something along the way.
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect summer reading, June 2, 2010
By 
Sam Spade (Lexington, KY) - See all my reviews
Priceless has just about everything you'd want in a book, with appeal to all sorts of readers. In light of the recent art heist in Paris, this is timely and fascinating. Wittman's exploits do indeed read like a crime thriller, keeping the pages turning in a breathless fashion. I'll definitely buy more copies as gifts!
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Factual, July 11, 2010
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The most interesting elements of "Priceless" were the facts regarding art and art theft and the awe and respect with which the author describes the pieces he views and recovers.

"Americans, in particular, are said to be uncultured when it comes to high art, more likely to go to a ballpark than a museum. But as I tell my foreign colleagues, the statistics belie that stereotype. Americans visit museums on a scale eclipsing sports. In 2007, more people visited the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington (24.2 million) than attended a game played by the Nations Basketball Association (21.8 million), the National Hockey League (21.2 million), or the National Football League (17 million)."

I was shocked by that fact. I was also surprised by the different priority level that the US places on art theft, compared to other countries. Despite the record prices being paid for historical and artistic pieces now, the penalties for their theft weren't comparable. The trails that Wittman goes through trying to deal with and change the investigation procedures in these cases was very interesting.

But the points at which I was most interested in this story, in the memoirs of this FBI agent were when he described his reactions to the stolen treasures he tried to restore to their place in the world.

"This was my first antiquity case, but as I would learn, looters are especially insidious art thieves. They not only invade the sanctuaries of our ancestors, plundering burial grounds and lost cities in a reckless dash for buried treasure, they also destroy our ability to learn about our past in ways other art thieves do not. When a painting is stolen from a museum, we usually know its provenance. We know where it came from, who painted it, when and perhaps even why. But once an antiquity is looted, the archaeologist loses the chance to study a piece in context, the chance to document history."

The order to the cases seemed a bit disjointed to me...it was hard to follow or remember where in Wittman's career we were and if major events or cases had come before or after the case he is describing.

And the description of the events did seem a bit removed from Wittman's emotions...except for a very personal event that happens near the beginning of the story.

In general, though, this book about his undercover life inside a world I know little about proved interesting and a change from most of the memoirs I've read.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE FBI AND STOLEN WORKS OF ART RANGING FROM REMBRANDT TO "THE-BILL-OF-RIGHTS", June 19, 2010
If you are a connoisseur of crime books that range from criminal psychology to the Mafia to serial killers and beyond... and the thought of reading a book that revolves around some of the world's great works of art... including Matisse... Monet... Rembrandt... Picasso... et al... turns you off... or just plain scares you... hold on a minute! I have a large library of the aforementioned category of crime books and I was extremely apprehensive about buying this book for those very same "artsy" aversions. In retrospect... I'm thrilled that I took the chance and bought this book anyway. What the author, Robert Wittman, a former FBI special agent does so magnificently is he draws the reader in with the usual promise of FBI crime titillation... then educates the reader so gently and rhythmically it becomes an almost subliminal indoctrination into what I had previously viewed as a "hoity-toity" upper-crust world that was not meant for me.

Wittman starts you off with names that any layman would be familiar with such as Rembrandt and Picasso... and then takes you on the same educational journey he himself traveled... such as getting educated in a course at an art gallery that simply takes you aback when you're told: "ON THE WALL IN FRONT OF ME, SURROUNDING A THIRTY-FOOT WINDOW HUNG THREE WORKS WITH A COMBINED WORTH OF HALF A BILLION DOLLARS." (Picasso's "THE PEASANTS"... Matisse's "SEATED RIFFIAN"... and Matisse's "THE DANCE".) What the author does from there on out is not only illuminate the world of art... but he shares such a strong empathy for the people whose works of art have been stolen. At times the victims are individuals... at times the victims are galleries... at times the victims are cities and states... and at times the victims are entire countries. As the flow of the story engulfs you... you... like the author begin to realize that it's actually humanity as a whole that is victimized by these thefts. Being that I consider myself an "average-Joe", I never thought I would feel this way towards these magnificent works of art. That is the gift of this book. Additionally... potential readers will be surprised that valuable artifacts from the civil war that have so much emotional familial value have been stolen and in many cases passed hands by cold-hearted swindles. The author and FBI have gone to great lengths in reacquiring these priceless antiquities and it is all detailed in this wonderfully touching story. I would have never volunteered to sit through a class that claimed to teach the things that I learned in this book... and I would have been far poorer if I had not read this book. Who knew that there were *FOURTEEN ORIGINAL COPIES OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS*... and one was missing for decades? The author shines a light on the fact that most "ART AND ANTIQUITIES THIEVES DON'T LOOK MUCH LIKE PIERCE BROSNAN OR SEAN CONNERY. RATHER, THEY LOOK LIKE GEORGE CSIZMAZIA AND ERNIE MEDFORD, THE ELECTRICIAN AND CUSTODIAN WHO SYSTEMATICALLY STOLE MORE THAN $2 MILLION WORTH OF REVOLUTIONARY WAR AND CIVIL WAR RELICS FROM A PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM." (Note the color pictures the author includes in the book verify that in spades!)

When you finish this first rate crime story you will find that you will be quite knowledgeable in the art field without having made much of an extended effort. It's kind of like walking in a warm summer tropical rainstorm... it was so enjoyable you don't even realize you got wet.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's True!, October 22, 2010
By 
Rick Mitchell "Rick Mitchell" (candia, new hampshire United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
It's true! Truth can be more astounding and interesting than fiction.

Mr. Wittman's account of his career as an undercover FBI agent trying to recover stolen artworks is fascinating, exciting and oh so interesting. He recounts eight to ten major busts he made along with a few references to other smaller ones and one colossal failure.

What helps these accounts resonate so well is that Mr. Wittman (and his co-author) walk the fine line of giving enough background for understanding without allowing that background noise to drown out the very good stories of the stings and busts. For instance, there is just enough biographical information and theory on Rembrandt to give the reader a taste of the artist while not overshadowing the hunt for his stolen "Self Portrait". The author also gives his theories of undercover work, background information on the structure of the FBI and the entire art theft industry, his own biography as well as information on most of the pieces of art he recovered.

Most of the book reads like a novel. Some of the accounts of the undercover stings had all the tension of a good mystery or piece of crime fiction.

Not only is this book chock full of information with excellent accounts of recovering (or attempting to recover) stolen art, it is highly entertaining. And, for that, it is highly recommended.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting, spellbinding, page-turner!, June 1, 2010
By 
Derek Sappenfield "DRS" (Bethesda, MD United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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Perfect for the beach...except you won't want to put it down to go in the water. Wittman is instantly a legend and Shiffman's own undercover detective skills mesh with the protagonist's to create the Summer's first "can't miss".
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars could be worse, July 30, 2010
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I love art history, and I love true crime stories, so I was really surprised that I didn't love PRICELESS. There were some interesting bits here and there, but I had to force myself to finish the book.

First of all, PRICELESS is very much a memoir - it's the story of the author's life, not the story of art crime. I was hoping for the story of art crime - not just Bob Wittman's personal experience with it. I didn't really want to learn all about Bob Wittman's life, but I did. He tells us what his dad did for a living, how he got into the FBI, the time he was charged with drunk driving, what he was doing on 9/11, things that are memorable to him but didn't really catch my interest.

Each chapter focuses on a particular sting that Wittman made. But...apparently undercover work isn't that exciting. Now, I can appreciate that the reality is probably a lot different than the movies, and it's interesting to get a glimpse of the unvarnished truth. But the truth is mighty dull. A lot of these undercover operations boil down to, "This guy was selling some stolen art, so I pretended like I was a broker who wanted to sell it on the black market, and once we were sure the art was authentic we arrested him." Sure, maybe Wittman's heart was pounding at the time, and yeah, it would be kind of crazy to have a fake identity and "befriend and betray" a bunch of criminals. But it's not a page-turner.

I thought Wittman's discussion of art history was really shallow. He got his entire art education by taking a course at an eccentric museum in Philadelphia. It did him a lot of good - but it didn't make him an expert. More like an amateur who doesn't realize that he's got a lot left to learn. So whenever he stops to talk about art, the passages read like an encyclopedia - Rembrandt was born here, he moved there, he got married at such and such an age. There's no analysis but also not a lot of emotion. And he only seems to research the information directly relevant to the stolen work of art; so, for example, he discusses Rembrandt almost entirely in terms of self-portraits, because that's what he recovered. A lot of the stolen art that Wittman tracked down was decorative, or some kind of historical artifact - swords used during the Civil War for example. He describes each stolen treasure in detail, so there's a grab bag element to the subject matter; maybe you'll find it interesting, maybe you won't.

And then he ends the book by describing his involvement in FBI attempts to solve the Gardner art heist. The way he tells it, FBI infighting screwed up a really good opportunity to retrieve the paintings. So we end the book on a bitter note, faced with a massive failure and a cast of selfish bureaucrats who can't see the forest for the trees. The political infighting is the most intricate thing that happens in the whole book, and somewhat more exciting than another round of, "So I told him I wanted to buy the piece and took him to my hotel room..." - but it's also depressing.

I guess, on the whole, I'd rather have read a different, better book about art crime. But PRICELESS was ok, and there were some interesting bits.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK!!, August 5, 2010
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The book is just Brilliant! Starting from the first page Robert Wittman takes you on a journey through his career and life. The details of the cases he worked on and the how he got into his career, the ups and downs throughout is very well explained, makes you a part of the story. Not only, did I learn about what it takes to become a Federal agent and everything that one has to go through, throughout the career path. But also taught me many life lessons that anyone can face throughout life. I would recommend this book to all readers.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Art Crime Book, June 8, 2010
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What a life Wittman lived as an undercover FBI agent hunting stolen treasures. I `m amazed he was able to use the same undercover name for twenty years without the bad guys catching up with him though it was necessary for building a reputation in the underworld. I'd assumed the art theft world was fairly small and maybe it is for criminals with some art knowledge but mostly they seem to be inept bumblers presented with an opportunity. So many museums are under secured. It's a shame they don't have the funding to protect their exhibits better. In the end it was interconnectedness of the criminals and the agents that ended Wittman's government career, that and governmental bureaucracy both at home and abroad. It's an old boys club filled with one upsmanship. The final chapters hold out glimmers of hope of finding the Vermeer and Rembrandt stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. It was wrenching to hear one of the other Gardner paintings described as being badly damaged. Though I wish there was better news on the Gardner front that in no way takes away from the many other lovely things Wittman was able to retrieve in fact his descriptive art insider's information made this book for me. In my opinion this is one of the best art crime books I've read in years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Fun Read, October 5, 2010
These days, I'm looking for non-fiction books that: a) are written by the "guy who was there" -- not a secondary source report, b) that can educate me about something new, and c) that have an inherent drama and tension that keep me turning the pages. And I'm happy if I can get two out of three. This is a wonderful book that accomplishes all three. It's a really fun read. Thanks to the author for writing a book that was more than worth the price of admission to his world.
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Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman (Paperback - June 7, 2011)
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