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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0151015016
ISBN-10: 0151015015
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In an authoritative account, two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation, reveal the details of the Getty Museum's illicit purchases, from smugglers and fences, of looted Greek and Roman antiquities. In 2005, the Italians indicted former Getty curator Marion True for trafficking in looted antiquities, and by 2007, after protracted negotiations, the Getty agreed to return 40 of 46 artifacts demanded by the Italian government; Italy in turn agreed to loan the Getty comparable objects. One of the major pieces lost by the Getty was an Aphrodite statue purchased by True to put the Getty on the map. But still eluding the Italians is the Getty Bronze, a statue of an athlete hauled out of international waters in 1964 by Italian fishermen; it was the prized acquisition of the Getty's first antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, who brought thousands more looted antiquities into the museum through a tax-fraud scheme. The authors offer an excellent recap of the museum's misdeeds, brimming with tasty details of the scandal that motivated several of America's leading art museums to voluntarily return to Italy and Greece some 100 classical antiquities worth more than half a billion dollars. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
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Review

"America’s great art museums are the last sacred cows of our culture. It takes a special sort of intrepid investigator backed by a courageous organization to uncover the secrets and lies of these quasi-public institutions and the private agendas of their wealthy and influential patrons. Chasing Aphrodite is the result of one such rare convergence. A scary, true tale of the blinding allure of great art and the power of the wealth that covets it, it is also an inspiring example of the only greater power: the truth."-  Michael Gross, author of Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum

"A thrilling, well-researched book that offers readers a glimpse into the back-room dealings of a world-class museum--and the illegal trade of looted antiquities. Chasing Aphrodite should not be missed. " –Ulrich Boser, author of THE GARDNER HEIST: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft

"Chasing Aphrodite is an epic story that, from the first page, grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have penetrated the inner sanctum of one of the world’s most powerful museums, exposing how its caretakers – blinded by greed, arrogance  and self-deception – eagerly tapped international networks of criminals in pursuit of the next great masterpiece.  It is a breathtaking tale that I guarantee will keep you reading late into the night. - Kurt Eichenwald, author of CONSPIRACY OF FOOLS: A True Story

"Chasing Aphrodite is a brilliantly told, richly detailed, and vitally important account of how one of America’s top cultural institutions spent millions buying treasures stolen from ancient graves and then spent millions more trying to deny it. In the hands of Felch and Frammolino, the story gathers a riveting momentum as the Getty moves from one ethical smashup to another. The authors present an astonishing array of evidence, yet they are scrupulously balanced and keenly sensitive to the nuances of the cultural-property debate. Even if you think you know the story of the Getty, read this book. You won’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but you will be enthralled."  --Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151015015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151015016
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For hundreds of years collectors and museums have been buying pieces of ancient art looted from tombs and other archaeological sites in Greece, and Italy. The Getty Museum was no exception. With their almost unlimited acquisitions budget, the curators tried to grab the best pieces that came on the market whether they had provenance or not. Provenance is the chain of ownership that determines whether piece of art is legitimate, or the product of looting and smuggling.

The book was well written, fast paced, and hard to put down. The authors, reporters for the LA Times who led the investigation into the Getty Museum's misdeeds, present an almost incredible picture of greed, egotism and ambition. The Getty was blessed, or cursed, with an enormous amount of money to buy masterpieces. This led the curators into the murky underworld of illegal trade in antiquities. From the book, it's clear that the museum officials knew they were wrong to deal with the criminal underworld, but there was an issue that allowed them to save face. They believed they were saving the art from destruction. Ultimately, all they were doing was increasing the criminal activity of the looters.

I found the book completely fascinating. It gave me a glimpse of the underbelly of the art world I didn't realize existed. I literally couldn't put it down. I highly recommend the book to anyone who loves a good detective story. The authors present a shocking picture of what ambition can do to a supposedly ethical organization. Well worth the read.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I base my review on the text itself but the Kindle edition is a disgrace.

This was a fascinating look into the issue surrounding the return of looted classical art work purchased by the Getty over the years. It is well written and develops a good chronological timeline as well as insight into the personalities involved that was not readily apparent if you read only the newspaper accounts. I would agree with most of the four- and five-star reviews here on Amazon.

For Kindle customers I have this to add: this digital edition is a disgrace; I have notified Amazon. There are numerous editing errors, none of the photos are included, and there was no indication until I got to the end of the text that there were interesting and informative notes. In the "Notes" section there were two types of indicators for the notes, some linked back to the text and some did not. Some notes were preceded with this symbol "[>]" in front of the note, which links back to the text; others merely had what appears to be a page number in front of the note but the number did not link back to the text nor did the digital edition provide page numbers! Truly a disappointment.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book examines museum acquisitions, and how ancient artifacts acquire value and are looted and trafficked. As far as the Getty and the Italian prosecutions, much has been written, but this book has a fascinating insight into the corporate board mentality that gives a sense of entitlement to wealthy individuals and institutions. Particularly fascinating were the authors access to inside documents and notes. The reader can have no doubt about the complicit nature of the Getty, and its board members and staff.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to say, I absolutely loved this book. What isn't there to like? The rich and the famous's dirty secrets revealed, scandalous sex, endless money, and fabulous art... this book traces the at best questionable and often flat out illegal fashion in which the Getty Museum (and other prominent museums) gathered some of the museum treasures. You'll learn about endless financial scandals and flat out tax fraud, a trail of non stop affairs by the museum executives, the board that ignored the problems, and much more at America's wealthiest museum. And all of this corruption because of, or in spite of, being extremely well endowed.

THe book is very well written, essentially as investigative journalism. It is thoroughly researched, well written, and will plunge you into the lives of the museum workers who were actively performing misdeeds and the detectives (mostly Italian) trying to stop them. It is part mystery, part history, and 100% fun.

If you enjoy museums, or live in LA, or just want a great story, read this book. It is one of my favorite books from this year so far.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I NEVER knew museums were into such skulduggery ! I always assumed that with their cultured airs they were cultured people of cultured tastes and impeccable standards.
This book was an amazing education on how museums come by their valuable collections. This book centers on a particular scandal however, it is hard to imagine that this does not continue to some degree today.
The looting of antiquities to fill the worlds' leading museums and the originating countries' fights to get the items back is a riveting read.
Most museums required "incontrovertible " absolute proof of an item's being looted and sold through the black market before they would give it back to the requesting country. It was noted that this is tougher proof than is required for a murder trial ! Acquiring the treasured item....not so much proof needed. Giving it back.......more proof needed than to convict a murderer ! Amazing.

It's a great read. Highly recommend it even if you're not a museum buff and familiar with all the antiquities being discussed.
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