Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.
John Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed “bibliodick” (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.
Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much takes the reader into the world of rare books. It is a refined and respected world, but there’s a seedy underbelly of theft and bibliomania. There are those who make it their lives’ endeavor to attain priceless manuscripts no matter the cost: some who do so through the professional channels, and others who resort to unscrupulous means.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much tells the true story of a member of the latter class, of John Gilkey. Bartlett formed an unlikely friendship with the infamous book thief, but her story isn’t one-sided. She also befriended Ken Sanders, a book dealer with a penchant for detective work, who made it his life’s aim to stop Gilkey.
While the writing is mediocre and repetitive at times, Bartlett captures the egomania of Gilkey, the relentlessness of Sanders, and the stories of Gilkey’s victims. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an interesting look at the vicious cycle of passion turning to obsession, of desire becoming compulsion.