You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett, is the second book I've received from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. It tells the true story of John Gilkey, a book thief who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of rare and antique books. Bartlett also tells about Ken Sanders, a bookseller who dedicates himself to finding the thief and getting him in prison.

Bartlett's book is part mystery, part ode to books and book lovers. She admits that while she loves books she is not obsessed with them enough to spend a fortune on a rare book, much less steal one. Yet she offers insights into the history and character of rare book collectors. There is also some psychological analysis of Gilkey, who rationalizes his thefts by using fraud and blaming his victims for being guilty. He is the classic criminal case who believes he is the true victim, and if he is caught it only makes him more justified in pursuing his desires. I found him chilling, for he has little conscience. His stated desire for stealing books is to amass a collection that would raise his esteem in the eyes of others. Yet he hasn't a clue about how others would really see him: as a cold-hearted thief.

Bartlett interviews Sanders and other booksellers, tracking the story of how Gilkey was finally caught. She provides some views and anecdotes about the bookselling business, but the center of the story is Gilkey, his crimes, and his personality that drives him to collect nice things to create an illusory image of himself. The writing is clear and interesting, mixing history and current events, action and analysis. Though a bit short and lacking a big ending, it was enjoyable to read. B+

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