Customer Review

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A jumble of reporting and history, but excellent questions are asked, May 20, 2009
This review is from: Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World (Hardcover)
I read this book when it first appeared, and find that over the months I am mellowing in my opinion of it. The author is a reporter who writes about Hollywood. It shows. The premise of the book is that museums in the US and Europe continue to purchase works of art that have been looted from other cultures and illegally purchased by those museums. This is not a simple subject since virtually all conquests and wars throughout the centuries have included pillaging by the winners, hauling the loot back to the conqueror's home land. We are supposedly above such things now, and the countries where the works originated should, the author argues, have a right to determine whether those works can leave the country.

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?
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