Book Review: Priceless – Robert K. Wittman [TSS]

Title: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures
Author: Robert K. Wittman & John Shiffman
ISBN: 9780307461476
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

For almost 20 years, Robert K. Wittman’s was the FBI’s only full-time art crime agent.  Over the course of his career, he recovered more than $225 million worth of stolen art.  In this memoir, Wittman describes some of his more exciting and famous cases.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books about art in general, and art crime specifically, so when I first heard about Robert K. Wittman’s memoir, I was incredibly excited.  It sounded like an exciting and intriguing book, and I’m happy to say that the experience of reading it did not disappoint in the slightest.

The book is structured by case, and roughly by time.  Each chapter focuses on a different case Wittman worked on.  Sometimes these cases would overlap, but the entire case, from beginning to end, is covered in one chapter, rather than moving through Wittman’s life chronologically.  This makes it incredibly easy to follow and gives the reader a sense of closure at the end of each chapter, getting the satisfaction of the stolen artifact being returned to its rightful owners.

I appreciated that Priceless was never dry or monotonous.  I was engaged from beginning to end and never found my attention wandering.  The format had a lot to do with this – since each chapter was its own, self-contained story, I knew what to expect.  The pace also moved very briskly.  Wittman was careful to include all the necessary details and relate knowledge to the reader, but never went overboard or saddled the reader with unnecessary history.

Priceless is also a glimpse into the inner workings of the FBI, and I have to admit, it left me frustrated.  Specifically, the book opens and closes with the most famous art crime in United States history, the 1990 heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  (Wittman does do an excellent job giving the reader the basic facts about this case, but if you want some in depth reading, definitely check out Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist).  I don’t want to ruin the story or give away any details, but it was the last case Wittman worked on, and clearly it was unsuccessful, as the stolen art is still missing.  But the reason for the bungling, as well as the internal politics, were incredibly irritating for someone like Wittman and the reader, who just want to see the stolen art returned.

Wittman’s memoir is an incredibly exciting and engaging look at the world of art crime.  For the most part, it leaves the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling, as Wittman succeeds again and again at recovering stolen artwork.  I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in the subject, even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction – the chapters are short enough such that it will keep your interest, and the book as a whole is a wonderful read.

Comments

  1. Oh, I love how they had to put FBI AGENT on the cover right under his name, that’s hilarious. I’m glad you enjoyed this!

  2. Oh, I love how they had to put FBI AGENT on the cover right under his name, that’s hilarious. I’m glad you enjoyed this!

  3. I suspect I would really enjoy this book. Thanks!

  4. I suspect I would really enjoy this book. Thanks!

  5. I love art and I love memoirs, so it sounds like this book was written for me!

  6. I love art and I love memoirs, so it sounds like this book was written for me!

  7. I would love to read it too! I am originally from Indiana and my great grandfather was part of the Brown County Artist Colony (La Bohe). When I saw a goregously illustrated book about the colony, I held my breath (expensive for me)and bought it. I enjoyed reading years. It was written by a couple, husband and wife. Well, then I had a shock, the couple was arrested for art forgery!!!! I guess they could not pass the temptation up. It still is a shock to me. So this
    book sounds very intriguing to me. Do forgers do for the money or because they want to see if they can fool people?

  8. I would love to read it too! I am originally from Indiana and my great grandfather was part of the Brown County Artist Colony (La Bohe). When I saw a goregously illustrated book about the colony, I held my breath (expensive for me)and bought it. I enjoyed reading years. It was written by a couple, husband and wife. Well, then I had a shock, the couple was arrested for art forgery!!!! I guess they could not pass the temptation up. It still is a shock to me. So this
    book sounds very intriguing to me. Do forgers do for the money or because they want to see if they can fool people?

  9. This sounds like a really unusual and interesting read, and I am sure it is one that I would like. I have not ever really read anything about art theft, but I have to admit that your review has me really curious about this book, especially since it is written in bite sized chunks. Thanks for the great review, Swapna! I will definitely be looking for this book!

  10. This sounds like a really unusual and interesting read, and I am sure it is one that I would like. I have not ever really read anything about art theft, but I have to admit that your review has me really curious about this book, especially since it is written in bite sized chunks. Thanks for the great review, Swapna! I will definitely be looking for this book!

  11. Wow, this is definitely Interesting!

  12. Wow, this is definitely Interesting!

  13. I have it on my TBR and am very impatient to read it!

  14. I have it on my TBR and am very impatient to read it!

  15. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure about this book before, but after reading your review, I think this would be something I’d find fascinating. I think I need to add this to my TBR list. It will mesh nicely with crime fiction…like to mix in true crime every once and again!

  16. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure about this book before, but after reading your review, I think this would be something I’d find fascinating. I think I need to add this to my TBR list. It will mesh nicely with crime fiction…like to mix in true crime every once and again!

  17. Agreed with the review 100%! Excellent read with insight into art theft and the FBI.

  18. Agreed with the review 100%! Excellent read with insight into art theft and the FBI.

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