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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 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 17, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (September 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488916
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488917
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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