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Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
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Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  4,226 ratings  ·  443 reviews
The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Times dubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.”

In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.

Rising from humble roots as...more
Paperback, 324 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Broadway Books (first published 2010)
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"Undercover work is like chess. You need to master your subject and stay one or two moves ahead of your opponent.....It's all about understanding human nature--winning a person's trust and then taking advantage of it. You befriend, then betray."

Robert Wittman's memoir of his twenty years as an art detective for the FBI was fascinating. He traveled around the world recovering hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen art. The author points out that a part of our history and our culture is lost wh...more
Somehow, I knew that art thieves were not all really like Pierce Brosnon's Thomas Crowne, hiding Picasso's in his mane of chest hair, or like Catherine Zeta Jones getting her freak on with laser alarms. Yet, I wanted to believe that they were like that. But, "Priceless" serves to put those rumors to rest. A tell-all about the art crime industry from the FBI's pioneer in the field, the book shares tale after tale of the tawdry, seedy, and even boneheadedly simple and very un-Pierce-like world of...more
What a life Wittman lived as an undercover FBI agent hunting down stolen treasures. I ‘m amazed he was able to use the same undercover name for twenty years without the bad guys catching up with him. I’d assumed the art theft underworld was fairly small and maybe it is for criminals with some art knowledge but they mostly seem to be inept bumblers who see an opportunity and take it. So many museums are under secured it’s a shame. In the end it was interconnectedness of the criminals and the agen...more
Jonathan Lopez
In this stunning autobiography, former FBI undercover agent Robert K. Wittman details his 20-year career investigating the murky world of art theft. Adopting the false but carefully documented identity of Bob Clay, a shady art dealer with a taste for contraband, Wittman successfully infiltrated domestic and international criminal networks to recover more than $225 million worth of stolen cultural property — items ranging from a Rembrandt self-portrait to an original copy of the U.S. Bill of Righ...more
Kara Jorges
As someone who enjoys crime fiction, I thought it would be fun to read some crime NON-fiction, and possibly learn a few things. While this book was vague on a few details on the inner workings of the FBI, it was highly informative, both about art heists and government bureaucracy.

Bob Wittman began his career with the FBI without any law enforcement experience, but his job history and personal interests gave him some unique skills that came in handy. When he first joined the bureau, art theft wa...more
Rebecca Curtis
This was a fascinating and compelling read. Written by and about a retired FBI agent who spent 20 years working undercover to catch thieves and recover works of art worth millions, the cases he outlines are varied and sometimes practically unbelievable. Wittman did an excellent job of educating the reader about the history and value of the artifacts he recovered, without making it feel like reading a textbook. He also has no difficulty describing some of the bureaucratic frustrations he faced wi...more
What can i say, i'm a sucker for books about art fraud. this book is really interesting,not just because of the stories he tells but also because it's well-written. Each chapter could have been a book on its own.
This book was mostly interesting (sometimes dry), but also kind of superficial somehow. I haven't been able to pinpoint it, but the book didn't really seem to give the type of detailed lead up to the recoveries that I expected. It also bounced around a lot in the beginning, foreshadowing and flashing back so that I kept thinking I'd forgotten a character already or missed how one of the side stories ended.

I am not an art aficionado, so it was interesting to learn about the pieces. He never ment...more
Oct 17, 2012 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily by: I think Amanda and my mother both take credit
Shelves: 2012, arts
Years ago, I decided that I wanted to see all of the extant Brueghel paintings--a fun project that has led me to visit some places I otherwise wouldn't have. Online, I've met people who are trying to do the same thing with Vermeer, but nobody new is signing on for that, even though Vermeer has fewer known works, because one of them was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and no one knows if it will ever be seen again.

This book eventually gets to that case, but it tells many o...more
I'm a sucker for any book about art theft, so this was a title for me. You'd think, then, that the impressive tales Wittman tells of going undercover and cleverly fooling art thieves at their own con would have been the high points of the book for me. But no--what fascinated me the most is the author's love/hate relationship with the FBI, and the overwhelming sense of disappointment that remains after years of trying to do his good work within its system. Here's a man who went into the FBI think...more
Very enjoyable and fascinating read as you get the insider perspective on the world of art crime. He was the FBI's only art crime investigator, and takes you through several cases as he went undercover to lure stolen treasures from their hiding place. Well written, spending most of the time on the cases themselves. Keeps moving right along.

It does beg two questions: the seemingly arbitrary value of the art world's masterpieces, and how art represents both the pride of a nation and the pride of...more
I also posted a very similar review on

Wittman was an FBI agent who ended up specializing in solving art crimes. One difference between dealing with art crime and other property crimes is that with the former the object is unique. Consequently, getting the object back is an important consideration, possibly more important than punishing the criminals.

Most of the book is about Wittman working undercover to retrieve art and arrest the criminals. Typically Wittman posed as someone in

April Helms
You don't have to be an art connoisseur or even much of an art fan to appreciate this book. Here, Robert Wittman, now retired from the FBI, relates how he made a career of tracking down and recovering stolen art and artifacts. He recovered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of important historical artifacts and art through his career. Some highlights include the recovery of the 14th Bill of Rights, which was stolen during the Civil War; uncovering and exposing the scandel connected with two s...more
This is the second best of the books I've read about art crime. (Better than The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick, easier to read but not as significant as The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas, and not quite as good but perhaps having broader appeal than The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr). Wittman's adventures as an FBI special agent trying to develop an undercover specialty in recovering priceless art and artifacts (and eventually succeeding)--and trying to help the FBI understand the differe...more
Jan 07, 2012 Karencita rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Darra
Shelves: book-club
This was a book club selection that I was not able to read last year, but one that always intrigued, when I found a copy on the shelves at the local library, I had to pick it up. I am glad that I did! This "true life" story is actually almost unbelievable! A normal "everyday joe" - from Baltimore, no less! - becomes entangled in the dangerous world of art crime and over the course of his career rescues millions of dollars of historic art and artifacts from around the world. I found the...more
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So I'm sure that one day a bunch of friends got together and were telling stories about their jobs. And Bob Whittman is like "ok, and then there was this one time where I went down to Brasil to get some Norman Rockwell paintings. . . " Oh, and this other time that I went to New Mexico and bought some Indian Headdresses" and "Oh, and another time the guy came to the exchange meeting with a gun and a hacksaw. He was planning on stealing the money (that was in the suitcase attached to my wrist with...more
I'm in the arts for a living, so a book with the subject of just about anything about any aspect of art will fascinate me. I loved the premise of this book--an autobiography of a G-man's career finding stolen art and, ideally, bringing those who stole it to justice--and did enjoy it, but as I was reading it I found myself more interested in the author's description of the nuts-and-bolts of going undercover and of how the FBI works than in the stories of the rescued artworks. It is not a particul...more
This book almost feels bipolar. At times, it is a very good book about the stealing of art. Other times, it is a personal story about an FBI agent.

Sadly, the personal story is really boring and amounts to digressions that really, really take too long. While Wittman's background is told quickly, when he joins the FBI he seems to spend too much time that on things that have nothing to do with the title. While one particular event is important because it impacts him, other events aren't essential a...more
I've always wanted to be a secret agent but never could identify with law-enforcement types. Confessing his "odd man out" status within the ranks of his peers, Bob Wittman's deep reverence for the sacred objects of art and culture bound our souls together from the first pages. His willingness to go deep underground and risk his life to save a single "priceless" work is truly heroic. Naturally I gobbled up all the juicy pointers peppered along the way (always use your real first name, never use a...more
I wish there were a "skimmed" category for books. I just finished a Latin-in-a-week course, and my husband told me it would be hard to read popular literature after translating Virgil and the Latin Vulgate Bible. He was right. This book promised to be interesting, and perhaps at another time it will be, but I just couldn't finish it. It is written rather poorly, and is very formulaic. I had to put it down.

The story is a typical "action drama", begin the book in the middle of a scam to catch the...more
Nov 29, 2011 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: FBI fans
This is an insider's view of the FBI's law enforcement efforts in the art and antiquities fraud and theft cases. The presentation is clear and straightforward. The author's investigation of the fraud on The Antiques Road Show shown on PBS was interesting. Agent Wittman brought a unique set of talents and abilities to work undercover, and he's pretty modest about his accomplishments. Unfortunately, the new post-9/11 FBI doesn't win very encouraging ratings from him. At any rate, I enjoyed reading...more
Joel Fishbane
A book that should be coming soon to a TV screen near you, Priceless is a fearless memoir that is begging for adaptation - and authors Robert Wittman and John Shiffman have even provided writers with at least twelve episodes for the first season. The story of the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, Priceless succeeds as both crime drama and personal memoir, with Wittman emerging as the classic hero driven by a need for personal redemption. It also serves as a passionate celebration of art and its...more
'Whodunit'- and 'heist'-type stories have long been a favorite of mine. And as art history has been an on-again, off-again interest of mine, Priceless definitely caught my eye when I came across it.

Priceless is the author (Wittman)'s story of his work in the FBI's Art Crime Team. He takes us through his early days and the roundabout path that led him to the Bureau, and eventually to a passion for art which landed him in the Art Crime Team. From here it's a riveting tour through some of his bigge...more
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Investigations were very well told, I didn't feel lost in the facts of cases or the description of art or artists. Very well written!
I wish that the US put more time and effort into art crime. What wonderful stories paintings and artifacts have to tell, only they can't if they are taken? Our history, our memories disappear with them.
Bryce Holt
I was hoping for more art history and the "why" behind these particular thefts, and I got more of a one-sided autobiography of art theft and the narrow band in which this guy had to function with his very own FBI. The author isn't to's his story...but my expectations were vastly different than what I ended up with.

My biggest problem with the whole book is coming to grips with the fact that art thieves are a mostly dysfunctional bunch and that they care only about the money (not the a...more
The content is interesting, even very interesting. The way he tells it is not. Not only is his writing dull, but it drove me crazy that he makes himself out to be the best thing to happen to the FBI since, well, the X-Files. (Personal opinion, of course - not everyone likes the X-Files.) But, seriously, man, bring the ego down a notch.
Excellent story. Well-written and suspenseful, yet real. Teaches you about art as well as the way agents put themselves in danger to protect our cultural treasures. I visited the Gardner Museum in Boston a year after the heist and felt first-hand the barren feeling of the empty frames. This book deals with these paintings and more!
Nannie Bittinger
Oct 23, 2011 Nannie Bittinger rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Crime novel lovers, art affectionados.
What an exciting read. As good as any crime novel I've read and it's NON-Fiction! Whittman could just about compete with Connelly's Harry Bosch, but a bit more gentlemanly perhaps:)
Cindy Barnett
V-e-r-y interesting & informative. Retired FBI agent's memoirs, lots of art history & agency details. Enjoyed it, some foul language, no sex - it really is about art.
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