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Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic Hardcover – July 2, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This remarkable American story by Howard, executive editor of Bicycling magazine, follows the long, shadowy trail of a single document, North Carolina's wayward copy of the Bill of Rights. With ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution in 1789, 14 elegantly handwritten copies were drafted, one for each of the original states and one for the federal government. Seventy-six years later, at the end of the Civil War, it is believed a soldier with Sherman's army pilfered North Carolina's copy and carried it home to Ohio. The following year it ended up in the possession of Indiana businessman Charles Shotwell, who bought it for only $5. After 134 years in the Shotwell family's possession, the document in 2000 was purchased for $200,000 by a boastful Connecticut antique collector and an ethically dubious business partner, both hoping to sell it for millions. How the parchment ended up back in North Carolina state archives is an intricate tale involving high-powered antique dealers, businessmen, historians, manuscript experts, auction houses, elite attorneys, governors of three states, the FBI, a U.S. Attorney's office, and Philadelphia's National Constitution Center. The tale pulsates with dynamic personalities greatly affected by their connection to one of the rarest, most influential and valuable documents in American history. Howard has produced a marvelously compelling read. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“David Howard’s Lost Rights is an epic ride through American history, a colorful page-turner in which the hero is a 220-year-old piece of parchment coveted by an eccentric cast of fast-talking antiquarians and innocent patriots, nerdy record-keepers and special agents in a cinematic showdown. Howard goes deep, creating an astounding narrative weave that captures not just the strange journey of the Bill of Rights, but the modern-day country of hucksters and heroes it has wrought. A truly wonderful read!”
– Michael Paterniti, author of Driving Mr. Albert

"It would be difficult to find a more astonishing journey than the one David Howard traces in LOST RIGHTS. From a defeated and terrified Southern town at the end of the Civil War to a gleaming high rise in Philadelphia nearly 150 years later, Howard explains in riveting detail how one of our most treasured historical artifacts miraculously survived the avarice of men."
—Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt

"In this tour de force of antiquarian sleuthing, David Howard gamely follows a circuitous trail through distant centuries and rarefied subcultures. LOST RIGHTS not only entertains and enlightens us; it challenges our rockbed assumptions about what we think we have, and what we think we know."
—Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers

"LOST RIGHTS has it all—a historic heist, hidden treasure, deception, skullduggery, lawyers, guns, money, cheap picture frames and one very valuable piece of parchment. David Howard’s true-life tale of an original Bill of Rights stolen, lost, found and scammed reads like a thriller set backstage at Antiques Roadshow."
—Bruce Barcott, author of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw

"David Howard's LOST RIGHTS reveals—and untangles—a fascinating web of secrets and lies. At the story¹s heart lies nothing less than the best intentions and the worst impulses of all humanity. With his compelling narrative, larger-than-life characters, and sharp reporting, Howard lights the darkest corners of this twisted journey of one of America's most sacred relics."
—Susan Casey, author of The Devil's Teeth

“Here's a detective story of the ages, and for the ages. Dave Howard's investigation is almost as remarkable as the story it uncovers!”
—Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618826076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618826070
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,149,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lost Rights is an enjoyable read. When the Declaration of Independence was first proposed to the original 13 states North Carolina objected stating that it didn't go far enough to protect personal freedoms. This led to the Bill of Rights which secured those freedoms. It was adopted and one of three government clerks wrote out a copy for each state and a 14th copy for the Federal government. During the Civil War one of Sherman's soldiers stole North Carolina's copy and took it back home to Ohio. He quickly sold it and it was handed down through three generations of one family for the next 134 years. That's the Cliff Notes version but Howard provides a very detailed, sometimes almost too detailed, account of the document's journey back to North Carolina. There's a salty cast of characters who play their parts along the way. Howard gives us a behind the scenes take on the world of rare documents buying and selling. I was saddened to read that far too many state and federal documents have been lost, destroyed by accident, war, and carelessness and worst of all stolen, sometimes by the people charged with protecting them though for the most part that's an anomaly. Ironically in order to provide the provenance of this particular Bill of Rights several seemingly valueless documents were required. A careful documents clerk's distinctive markings clinched it as North Carolina's copy. Howard emphasized that though this physical object is important more important are its words and what they mean for us as a country and individuals. He includes a quote from a fellow journalist, Mark Bowden, who said, "Any nation is, at heart, an idea."

I recently read Wittman's book "Priceless" about his career in the FBI specializing in stolen art objects and his account of his part in recovering this Bill of Rights dovetails with Howard's though Howard's is far more detailed.
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Format: Hardcover
From Civil War battlefields to the hot lights of the Antiques Roadshow set to a true crime ending I won't spoil, Howard gives you a front row seat to the action. The Bill of Rights itself also becomes a character, and it shapes every scene its in. If you've ever looked at a family heirloom and wondered its value or the road it has traveled to get where it is, you must read this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book recounts the history of N. Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights and follows its path through time from the Civil War to present. The players range from regular Midwestern folks to well connected attorneys, Antique Roadshow experts and "celebrated dealers of old things". I thought it was an interesting book and I absorbed some history along the way, but it was ultimately about 50 pages too long and its bouncing back and forth between times and characters sometimes left me a tad confused. It started out great but lost some steam because of redundancy near its end.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The introduction to this book was so captivating, so masterful, so story-like, it's hard to believe such a tale actually happened! Who says great adventures only happen in the movies? I find the best ones are the ones from real life and this proves my point.

This is the story of one of the fourteen original Bill of Rights. There was one made for each of the thirteen colonies and one for the federal government. The one for North Carolina was apparently stolen during the sacking of Raleigh at the end of the Civil War and was discovered/revealed decades later in Indianapolis hanging on the wall of a modest home. Let the bidding begin! But, who owns it? The homeowner from Indianapolis or the State of North Carolina? Or is it really the missing document from another state?

A cast of characters-both villains and heroes-inhabit these pages and are fit for any Hollywood screen. The convoluted workings of tracing the who/where/what and why of this is so interesting and underling it all is patriotism and greed. I love how a story such as this is so full of scandal and intrigue. So much fuss for such a tiny scrap of paper! This was a very interesting read with a very sobering ending. I have definitely never read a book like this one. If you like mysteries from history, be sure to check it out!
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Format: Hardcover
If a story has interesting characters and a compelling plot narrative, especially that happens actually to have happened, and a setting which blends the familiar with the mysterious, the result simply can't be bad. David Howard introduces the uninitiated to the arcane world of rare manuscripts, including the dealers, archivists, collectors and thieves who handle them. Unlike the historically bereft "National Treasure" film, this far more interesting narrative course of events was all too real. Mr. Howard's comprehensive research and good endnotes demonstrate interest in getting the details right. He also demonstrates the right level of detachment and perspective; he obviously cares greatly about the story and the value of an original (1 of 14) Bill of Rights, even questioning the meaning of the value and how it does or does not relate to a price which might be paid.

Somehow, however, something is still missing. To be fair, the story is so compelling that I stayed up late to finish it. But it seems that just a few small tweaks to the organization of the story would launch the book from a good historical read into the realm of really compelling tell-all-your-friends greatness.
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