© Allison Hoover Bartlett.
This was a Christmas present from Ellen. I wonder what she’s trying to tell me…
The author is a journalist, and this is a true account of those who steal rare books, and those who try to stop them. In particular it focuses on one infamous book thief, John Gilkey, and one book dealer, Ken Sanders, who tries to put him in jail. Both men are interviewed extensively against a background of other information about rare books, those who sell them, and those who try, often successfully, to steal them. Gilkey is a fascinating character, obviously a very persuasive con man with little conscience, but unlike many thieves, he’s not in it to make money. His dream is to accumulate a library of rare editions for himself, and he has endless rationalizations as to why he should be allowed to. Unfortunately, law enforcement is rarely likely to pursue people like him. First, they have lots of crimes they consider more serious. Second, it’s hard to prove a book someone has is stolen, and rare book dealers are often reluctant to report stolen books, as it makes them look unreliable or gullible themselves.
Ken Sanders, the book thief detective, is also an interesting man. He spends far more of his own time and money pursuing Gilkey and those like him than is perhaps wise, but feeds his own sense of justice in doing so, in a sort of vigilante role. A book-thief-tracking hero. There’s lots of inside information on the rare book trade in this volume, and many discussions of particular rare books, their theft and sometimes recovery. All subjects I enjoyed reading about.
In my own library there aren’t many rare or valuable items, as I collect books mainly to read them, and am not often fussy about editions or even condition, but I do enjoy having some signed ones by favorite authors, and can certainly understand the lure of rare books. This is an nice piece of reporting, and if you collect or even just enjoy books yourself, you’ll probably have a good time reading this one. Recommended.