Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Publisher's Summary. What would you do for the love of a good book? For John Charles Gilkey, the answer is: go to prison.

Unrepentant book thief Gilkey has stolen a fortune in rare books from around the country. Yet unlike most thieves, who steal for profit, Gilkey steals for love—the love of books. Perhaps equally obsessive, though, is Ken Sanders, the self-appointed "bibliodick" driven to catch him. Sanders, a lifelong rare book collector and dealer turned amateur detective, will stop at nothing to catch the thief plaguing his trade.

In following both of these eccentric characters, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged deep into a world of fanatical book lust, and ultimately found herself caught between the many people interested in finding Gilkey's stolen treasure and the man who wanted to keep it hidden: the thief himself. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, Bartlett has woven this cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his crimes and how Sanders eventually caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. All collectors have stories of what first made them fall in love, and Gilkey and Sanders are no different. Bartlett puts their stories into the larger context of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages.

Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much exposes the profound role books play in all of our lives, the reverence in which these everyday objects are still held, and the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

Review. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Barlett is a fascinating true crime book about a man, John Gilkey, who “collects” rare books by stealing them. The twist in the story is that Gilkey steals the books not for profit, but for personal edifice. In hot pursuit of Gilkey is rare book dealer Ken Saunders. And rounding out this picture is the author Hoover Barlett who becomes Gilkey’s trusted confidant.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an interesting read on two levels. First, as an expose into the rare book world which Hoover Barlett does an excellent job of explaining. She attends famous book fairs and speaks with various dealer victims of Gilkey’s. She also plumbs the psyches of the average book collector with whom Gilkey shares many attributes (love of the physical object and desire to collect one type of object).

Next, she probes the depth of Gilkey’s psyche as to why he continues to steal rare books when he has been repeatedly caught and imprisoned. Gilkey declares, “I like the feeling of having a book worth five or ten grand in my hands. And there’s the admiration you’re gonna get from other people.” The paradox, of course, is that Gilkey cannot display his hot books for admiration nor easily sell them if he chooses to. Gilkey never gains insight into the ultimate futility of his “collecting” nor the consequences of his actions on himself or others. Like a moth drawn to the flame Gilkey continues to steal and continues to get caught.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a compelling, but ultimately somewhat sad story of an amoral thief.

Review Based on Borrowed Library Book.


  1. I liked this book a lot as well --different!

  2. Hmm, sounds intriguing. I have this one on the shelf and just haven't gotten around to it yet.

  3. It does sound like a good book, and since I love books about books, then yes

  4. Two of my book club members have read it and liked it. What book lover wouldn't like a book about a book lover?

  5. I love the title of this one, but the reviews just never have me willing to look for it. Apparently it's just not one I'll ever get around to.

  6. I don't know much about the rare book world, so I'll have to read this one at some point.

    Diary of an Eccentric