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Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures Paperback – June 7, 2011
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“Almost every case he recounts has enough intrigue and suspense for a Hollywood screenplay.”--The Washington Post
"Genius... Riveting.... Should be a TV series."--Los Angeles Times
"A rollicking memoir... investigative details dazzle... PRICELESS can read at times, not unpleasantly, as if an art history textbook got mixed up at the printer with a screenplay for THE WIRE."--The New York Times
"Riveting... superbly crafted... absolutely, hands down the best book ever written on art crime."--Associated Press
“I can’t think of a better title for a book than this one, PRICELESS. Because this non-fiction story is priceless, a spellbinding narrative of an FBI agent’s journey into the crazy murk of what is perhaps the most fascinating criminal activity of all, high-stakes art theft into the millions upon millions.”--Buzz Bissinger, New York Times bestselling author of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and coauthor of SHOOTING STARS
"Entertaining...crime buffs will receive a painless education while they enjoy a lively account of art thieves and the man who pursued them."--Kirkus Reviews
"Wittman's memoir, PRICELESS, is a fast-paced, gripping narrative of stolen national treasures and those who traffic in them. An undercover lawman armed with wit and adrenalin, Wittman exposes the darkest corners of the art world and brings to justice the dangerous criminals who lurk there."--Laney Salisbury, co-author of PROVENANCE: HOW A CON MAN AND A FORGER REWROTE THE HISTORY OF MODERN ART
"In one riveting sequence after another, Robert Wittman reveals the art world’s underbelly as it has never been seen, through the eyes of an undercover agent whose investigative acumen is matched only by his art-history chops. A true page-turner."--Benjamin Wallace, New York Times bestseller author of THE BILLIONAIRE’S VINEGAR
“With suspense, intrigue, and candor, FBI agent Robert Wittman takes us inside the secret world of stolen art as he goes undercover to solve some of the most notorious art thefts of our time.”—Ronald Kessler, New York Times bestselling author of THE BUREAU and IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE
“PRICELESS is a gem of a story, part James Bond, part art history. If Robert Wittman didn’t already exist, Dan Brown would have made him up.”--George Anastasia, New York Times bestselling author BLOOD AND HONOR, THE LAST GANGSTER and THE SUMMER WIND
"More realistic than THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, more entertaining than CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. It's hard to believe one undercover FBI Agent rescued so many cultural and national treasures......but it's all true.”--Jack Garcia, former FBI undercover agent and New York Times bestselling author of MAKING JACK FALCONE
“PRICELESS is a rare and riveting journey into the little-understood world of art crime. A brilliant professional who sees both the big picture and all of its nuances, Wittman fascinates with tales of his daring adventures as an FBI undercover agent. Demonstrating candor, humor, integrity, and sensitivity, Wittman strips away the myths, bares the truth, and tells it like it is. He and PRICELESS are both precisely that--priceless!”--Andrea Kane, New York Times bestselling author of DRAWN IN BLOOD
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
ROBERT K. WITTMAN spent twenty years as an FBI special agent. He created and was senior investigator for the bureau’s Art Crime Team. Today, he is president of the international art security firm Robert Wittman Inc.
JOHN SHIFFMAN is an investigative reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has won numerous writing awards and was a 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
From the Hardcover edition.
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I think it would enhance the book if it were illustrated. It would be easy to add pictures of the stolen items that Mr. Wittman tried to recover.
If you enjoy art history or true crime stories, I recommend that you read this book!
Often times people take jobs in the public sector, spend a lifetime providing service and then retire. Everyone can say they left a mark in their own field and implemented changes that made the job for the next person more fluid, simpler or more efficient, but not everyone can say what Wittman has done. Robert Wittman through good fortune and solid investigative work and 'proper salesmanship' in the field slowly built a career not only for himself but a place for others to hopefully follow.
Bob Wittman, AKA Bob Clay, undercover Art Dealer for an 'unnamed client' with a hefty checkbook, spent twenty years chasing down leads, setting up meetings in out-of-the-way darkened places, stings and apprehending a long list of people who ventured into Art Crime. Some were dangerous, others were probably more vacuous and obnoxious than dangerous, but still trouble all the same.
The best part of the story that unfolds is learning that at one point the FBI gave Bob the leeway needed to see these cases through, recapture lost art and artifacts and take the lead with other Agents to generate success recovering paintings, lost swords, stolen battleflags and other antiquities. The worst part is learning by the end of the book that, like with all bureaucracies who become obsessed with core issues, the FBI supposedly lost interest in drafting a line item budget in their annual reserve policies for Bob's Art Crime Department. Perhaps if more money had been spent on the West Coast, Marion True would've been shut down years prior over at the Getty Center in Los Angeles … but that's another story.
In reading the reviews, yes, I always do … I can see that Bob is unfairly taking a lot of flak for a portion of his writing style. Some readers come away a little turned off by what appears to be an oversized ego, but the truth is that when you're the first person to do something, anything you say is likely to come off that way. While Bob wasn't necessarily the first person to come along and do what he did with the FBI, he was likely the first to make a distinguished career out of it, go undercover and build an interest with FBI so they would create entire Departments which then made it able to frame the FBI in a favourable light for the recoveries. Bob Wittman does write a lot of “I did this” and “I did that” sentences, but having to protect other agents parts in cases is a part of it and the material should be read with such consideration.
Some people never see the value in history or in art, but will quickly sign the permission slip to let their kids visit a museum for a field trip outing with their elementary school. Common sense can skip a generation (sometimes two) and that's okay. A good number of people understand the significance of what art and antiquities hold, and what it means about our own past.
Bob Wittman's narrative of his case files make for good reading, thoughtful consideration and a warning to ne'er-do-wells who think ripping priceless art off the walls of sleepy half-forgotten museums can be profitable. Nine times out of ten you're likely going to be reselling the works to an undercover agent. So, the real lesson is clear – unless you're going to hang the stuff in your own two story home to look at and tell your neighbors it's a fake, decade after decade – don't even think about it.
Five Stars. Many thanks to the author for a lifetime of dedicated service as well.
1) the authors didn't just write about the theft of paintings, but also of artifacts such as an American Indian headress and historically important Civil War relics.
2) not only did they write about the actual crime, but gave important backstory information about each theft and the players involved.
3) while Wittman created, promoted and worked as the FBI's art theft division lead, he relates the struggles to keep it vital and working through his tenure touching on the evolution of the bureaucratic mess it has become.
4) the Gardner theft case is the underlying theft case in the story, and the authors provide updates on the years of repeated attempts to locate the paintings to no avail.
I encourage anyone interested in reading about art crime to give this book a read.
His writing stye is very solidly in the "There-I-was up to my neck...." mould, which gets pretty tedious. One chapter begins with " I reflected on all I had a accomplished in my long career......." so he's not short on ego. He could have benefited from a ghost writer but its still a great read.
Every chapter or so tells of a different case he worked, combining the case itself with his own personal history, in order to bring the reader a very personal, although not overly sentimental, account of the crimes he solved and how he solved them.
The nice part is that Wittman is honest, to the point, and not afraid to show his own flaws. In other words, he doesn't write himself as a hero worthy of adoration. Instead, he describes his own perspectives, successes, and failures in a way so humble that the reader can't help but identify with him.
It is well written. It is easy to read. It is a great story of one man set against the backdrop of cultural history. A fantastic book.