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Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World Hardcover – October 28, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. After covering Hollywood's cutting-edge directors (Rebels on the Backlot), former New York Times correspondent Waxman embarks on a grand tour of some of the world's finest museums—the Met, the Louvre, the British Museum, the Getty—and the countries from which some of their most famous antiquities were illicitly taken. Skillfully blending history and reportage, Waxman traces the stories of treasures like the Elgin Marbles, then jumps into the debate over whether they should be restored to their countries of origin. She finds no easy answers: while acknowledging the dubious means by which European and American museums acquired many antiquities, she concedes that the governments clamoring for their return don't always have adequate plans for their maintenance. (Turkey compelled the Met to hand over the famous Lydian Hoard, only to have its masterpiece stolen.) Waxman's account is animated by interviews with museum curators, accused smugglers and government officials, putting a human spin on the complex cultural politics before arriving at a middle ground that strives for international collaboration in preserving a broad, global heritage. 8-page color insert, 20 b&w photos. (Nov. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Sharon Waxman raises many challenging questions in this important, well-researched study about the conflict over classical antiquities and the breach of international regulations by Western countries. Compelling and fast-paced, the story spans countries (mostly Western) and centuries. Despite Waxman's generous narrative, a few critics thought her perspective uneven, as she favors allowing Western museums to keep their purloined treasures. Similarly, although she gives everyone equal voice—from curators to archaeologists to journalists uncovering these crimes—the museum directors and curators fare relatively badly. Despite these criticisms, Lootoffers intelligent analysis about a difficult dilemma with no easy answer.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805086536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805086539
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Whose art is it, anyway?

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.
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Format: 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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Format: Paperback
The author is a former `culture correspondent' reporting on Hollywood for The New York Times. The book's back cover quotes reviews, including one from Tina Brown (the celebrated editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Daily Beast) informing us that the book exhibits "rigorous, scholarly reporting". I happen to disagree. Today a writer's sources can easily be checked using the internet. I have done this and found the author's scholarship wanting.

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".
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