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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 [Kindle Edition]

Allison Hoover Bartlett
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (169 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

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.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect—and steal—them with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or Bibliodick. On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey's passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett's journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett's interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing (her original article about himself appeared in The Best Crime Reporting 2007). Here, however, she struggles to weave it all into a cohesive narrative. (Sept. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Bibliophiles themselves, reviewers clearly wanted to like The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. The degree to which they actually did depended on how they viewed Bartlett's authorial choices. Several critics were drawn in by Bartlett's own involvement in the story, as in the scene where she follows Gilkey through a bookstore he once robbed. But others found this style lazy, boring, or overly "literary," and wished Bartlett would just get out of the way. A few also thought that Bartlett ascribed unbelievable motives to Gilkey. But reviewers' critiques reveal that even those unimpressed with Bartlett's style found the book an entertaining true-crime story.

Product Details

  • File Size: 400 KB
  • Print Length: 300 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594488916
  • Publisher: Riverhead; Reprint edition (September 17, 2009)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002N83H52
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #424,487 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book lovers, beware. August 25, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Despite its title, "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" is not a book about some especially avid reader who becomes so obsessed with reading that he allows it to take over the rest of his life. One only has to read the book's subtitle, "The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession," to learn that "the man" in question had a much different problem.

That John Gilkey is an obsessed book collector is beyond question. Gilkey's gnawing desire to own rare books, however, does not make him unique - or even uncommon. People collect a variety of objects for a variety of reasons and many of them do become obsessed with the chase and the displaying of their "trophies." What makes Gilkey unusual enough to have a book written about him is that he entirely satisfies his urge to own rare books by stealing them. Price is no object for a man who never intends to pay for the books he adds to his personal library.

"In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much," Allison Hoover Bartlett combines Gilkey's story with that of the man who became obsessed with stopping his thefts, rare book dealer Ken Sanders. Against all odds, she was able to befriend both men to such a degree that she was able to gain insight into what motivated each of them - one to steal books and the other to spend countless hours trying to stop him.

Bartlett spent a great deal of time getting to know John Gilkey. She visited him in jail when he was serving time for stealing expensive items from rare book dealers; she interviewed him extensively while he was a free man; and she visited his mother's home where she was allowed to see some of the books being kept for him there.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Look at the World of Rare Books July 22, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Take a peek at the inside world of rare book dealers and the bibliophiles who covet their wares -- but not enough to pay for them. This is shoplifting taken to its highest level, second only to jewel thieves. Lust for a
$5,000 volume? Just slip it under your coat and walk calmly off with it at a big show. Meet some of the dealers and how they defend their merchandise and run down the culprits who make off with the big-buck items. Get to know one of the master book thieves who has dreams of building a prestigious library that will be the envy of all. The often-arrested John Charles Gilkey, abetted in later years by his father, fees an entitlement that is hard to understand. If he wants something -- in his case, a book -- he feels life owes it to him. Despite getting caught and jailed numerous times, he keeps his dreams and keeps on stealing.

This book gives insight into a little-known aspect of the book world, and if you love books for the sake of books, you'll enjoy the author's interviews with book people at the top -- and feeding at the bottom -- of
their world.
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67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion Overshadows Reason - Compelling Page Turner August 13, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Collectors are my business. My clients aren't book collectors, but the objects aren't important, it's the common thread of collecting and the level of interest/passion involved. In my work I have had customers who enjoyed their hobby but kept it in perspective. They didn't let it negatively affect the rest of their lives, but I've also had clients that consumed macaroni and cheese all month long so they could afford a particular treasure. One pair of clients (they collected together) phoned on the way to the airport leaving for their honeymoon. The gift money they'd just received would pay for a treasure they'd been eyeing. For some people collecting is their life, and the rarer the treasures they possess, in their mind, defines how important and special they are. As passion for the hobby grew so did the crimes at shows I'd attend. Theft became common and more and more security guards were hired to inspect packages and watch the entrances and exits.

This book is a compelling narrative of the world of collecting and the passionate individuals who reside in it. It illustrates how the line between desperately wanting something can evolve into theft because the need and distorted importance of the collection overshadows right and wrong. It is a true crime, cat and mouse game where the end result, as is often the case in the real world, doesn't neatly resolve everything.

Whether the reader is a collector or has never for a moment cared about searching for old treasures, the book does what good books should always do -- permit immersion into another's world. The book does this beautifully and makes this the perfect gift for a sick friend, an avid reader, a book lover or a collector.
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fun story- nimrod author. November 12, 2009
Format:Hardcover
I'm enjoying this read, but finding myself annoyed by the author's naivete. She goes around with her subject to a the scene of one of his crimes, and then is dismayed to find herself becoming part of the story. She wonders about his motives, but never seeks the insight of a criminologist or a psychologist. She seems totally unaware that the criminal whose misdeeds she sanctions through her fawning, nonjudgemental curiosity is using her to justify his actions, both to himself and to the world. The pretty blonde finds him fascinating- how could this not stoke his ego, and reassure him that he's in the right?
In all, though I don't like to wish ill on anyone, I can't help thinking that her attitude would change if someone robbed her house- perhaps stole the only copy of her next book just before it went to the publisher- or picked her car clean off the street, never to be seen again. Her tone of amoral equivocation swoops nauseatingly close to that of the crook she's profiling, and essentially ignores the damage and violence he does to the hard work, to the dreams and passions, of others. In her drive to "get" his story- and, we may posit, to sell books and to aggrandize herself- she tacitly condones his destructive behavior. A closer knowledge of the empty feeling of the violated might make her less surprised at the anger his victims still express years after the fact.
But frankly, I doubt it. She's a grown woman with college-aged children and should know better. I will studiously avoid her "work" in future, and recommend that you, gentle reader, do the same. In the end, she proves to be no better a person than the criminal she's profiling, and I feel like a sucker for having thought better of her than that.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars I think the author wrote herself into a corner with ...
I think the author wrote herself into a corner with this thief and couldn't find a graceful way out. I did learn a lot about the rare book business though.
Published 1 month ago by Jimbo
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Book
A readable book about a fascinating subject; I enjoyed the book's structure--the author follows and reports the actions and reactions of a 'book cop' and a book thief as their... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dan Krotz
3.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who was Obsessive Compulsive
The most interesting aspect of this book for me was the world of rare, old, first edition, historical books. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carol A. Harlos
4.0 out of 5 stars View into the rare book world
The title of this book might be slightly misleading. The book follows the story of John Gilkey, a self proclaimed bibliophile. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alex Underwood
5.0 out of 5 stars THE book for book lovers.
I first came upon this book while browsing the shelves of my local library and I'm glad I did. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time and as the review title... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Daniel Richardson
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bookschlepper Recommends
I love books; my husband would say perhaps too much but my own obsessions pales with this case. John Charles Gilkey loves books and wants to build an extensive library. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jean Sue Libkind
4.0 out of 5 stars book lover
Story about John who loves having rare books. He buys them using stolen credit card numbers. There is a guy tracking him. This is told mostly from the write's perspective. Read more
Published 3 months ago by ellison
5.0 out of 5 stars I WAS ASTOUNDED AND AMAZED
It never entered my mind that anyone could be so obsessed with the idea of ownership of a particular book that he would steal it to satisfy the craving. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Paul - California
2.0 out of 5 stars By What Degree Does Bartlett (the author) Differ From a Book Thief?
So, to be clear, the author began her quest to write about rare book thievery when a stolen book came into her possession, and, as she wrote the last sentence of the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by History Buff
3.0 out of 5 stars Good journal writing
This book was evenly balanced between the good guys and the bad guys. Written from the perspective of a reporter. An exceptionally easy read.
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

Allison Hoover Bartlett's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, among other publications. Her original article on John Gilkey was included in the Best American Crime Reporting 2007.

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