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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  8,238 Ratings  ·  1,829 Reviews
In the tradition of The Orchid Thief, a compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him.

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 boo
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published September 17th 2009 by Riverhead Books (first published August 1st 2009)
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Deborah Cleaves No you didn't imagine it. But there were actually two pairs of authors mentioned who did so. Wolfe and Hemingway whose forgery had been discovered,…moreNo you didn't imagine it. But there were actually two pairs of authors mentioned who did so. Wolfe and Hemingway whose forgery had been discovered, and two other authors present at the same book signing who did the same when one was misidentified as the other by someone seeking an autograph. That forged book has still not been identified.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeffrey Keeten
This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see.
To steal this book, if you should try.
It's by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you're screaming
"Oh, Oh, Oh!"
Remember, you deserved this woe.
---Warning written by medieval German scribe


Fortunately for me I live in the part of the world where people can not conceive of a book being of a value worth stealing. Thieves here are more interested in ca

Ahhhh...books. They are wonderful...especially books about other books. Even better are books about books that are rare and valuable. These books give me the happies.

There were chunks of this story that serenaded my growing bibliomania off its feet like Cyrano de Bergerac beneath Roxane’s window. I love books. I love them for their minds and I love them for their bodies and over the past few years, I’ve begun collecting first editions of my favorite novels. I get tremendous enjoyment from it
Diane S ☔
Feb 27, 2018 rated it liked it
It is always hard for me to not find something fascinating in a book about books. This was a whole new world of books in which I was introduced. Those who collect, sell and yes steal them. A completely different mindset they have, collectors and thieves. I love books but except for a few gorgeous old copies of a few, I am a reader, not a collector. Neither have the time, passion nor money.

We are introduced to Sanders, an avid collector, owns a book store that sells regular fiction as well as fi
May 06, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I wanted to like this book, but I can't. I thought it would be a story about a man who loved book too much, but it wasn't. Sure, he wanted books so much that he stole it, but not because a book contains story. He only stole it because he thought wealthy people should have an imposing library, because first print books have high monetary value. It's like treating book like Prada bags or whatever other silly wealth symbols. I never could understand the power or need of marked merchandise and it an ...more
Apr 10, 2014 rated it liked it
As both an undergraduate and graduate student, I had a penchant for spending time in the rare manuscripts rooms at both BYU and University of Wisconsin-Madison. While my studies in African History did require me to spend time there to peruse books for research, I enjoyed taking time to thumb through (with gloved hands, of course) everything from medieval manuscripts to pioneer journals to (my favorite) the entire selection of Yellow Book Quarterly, which had nothing at all to do with my research ...more
Lisa Vegan
Jun 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: more for those studying psychopathology than for bibliophiles
Recommended to Lisa by: Lesley
I’d wanted to read this book since it was first published (I first learned of it, and Gilkey, from one of my local independent bookstores), and so I was grateful when my real world book club decided to read it.

It was not exactly what I’d expected, a book about a man who loves books, and happens to steal them. The man in question is less a book lover and more a narcissist, sociopath and thief, primarily but not exclusively stealing books.

I was not as enthralled as I’d expected to be. I was appall
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession seemed to be an interesting premise. John Gilkey stole books because he "loved" them too much. The book introduced me to the world of rare book collecting and in John Gilkey's case, stealing. That was the only good part of this book.
John Gilkey did not steal because he "loved books too much". John Gilkey was an amoral narcissist who stole rare books because he wanted the prestige of owning
Vikas Singh
Jul 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
A complete waste of time. It is a boring narrative of Allison's narrative of her discussions with a rare book thief. The book is such a drag that i could not even complete it. She just managed to pick up an uncommon topic with interesting idea but completely failed to make it an interesting read. Avoid..avoid...avoid
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is definitely the wrong title for this book, because that's really not what this book is about. The love of stories is something I can relate to, easily -- or even the love of beautiful first editions. The amoral antics of a thief who wants to have books as a status symbol, and the wishy-washy morals of the story-hungry writer, are not something I can sympathise with as much. And I increasingly worried about the latter. She could have reported thefts of books wor ...more
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the most part I enjoyed this book. It was a ripping yarn, well researched and well written however a disappointing ending prevented this from being a 5 star book. As a collector I could relate to some of the madness but the complete lack of morality of the thief left me stumped. Could someone be so full of guile, a rat cunning genius or were they mentally impaired and dead lucky? It did make me wonder. The book provided wonderful insights into the history and personalities of rare book colle ...more
Apr 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to miaaa by: Goodreads Indonesia
I think life's an irrational obsession.
Sean Penn

And I solemnly think this book is about obsession, which has a shallow and fragile border with insanity. A man with disturbed upbringings, John Gilkey, sets the world to his own rules of fairness and rights. Whatever impacts his conducts may have caused to others would never bother him, or he simply pretends not to. And somehow whilst reading this magnificent journal, I can't divert my mind from Carlos María Domínguez's The Paper House.

Prior read
Mike (the Paladin)
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
I'm afraid I must admit to a bit of judgmentalism here. I was very annoyed at this book and skimmed a lot. I know a lot of people enjoyed it...but I couldn't help but feel that the author was just too "understanding" of the book thief.

I mean we get all this "explanation" on how he dreamed of having this extensive valuable library, of collecting books (and also other things) so, he stole them.

Okay, I dream of $1000 suites, $100,000 cars and multimillion dollar houses...maybe plus of course, book
colleen the convivial curmudgeon
The book has a cool premise - following a book thief, trying to understand his motivations and whatnot, and also following the man whose quest it is to stop the thief.

And yet...

I think it could've been cool as a sort of "based on true story" kind of fiction. I think it could've even worked better if the author wrote it focusing on the people in the story more than herself.

See, she spoke a lot about what she did to get the story. The interviews she did, the research she undertook, her ethical di
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is book porn. Literally the description of books and bindings, first edition and fonts is enough to make a book lover fall even deeped in love with books (which FYI i didnt think was possible).
Jan 23, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: language-books
Narrative nonfiction books that deal with the more rarified forms of theft (books, art, orchids...) seem to follow a certain template. The author, usually a journalist, describes how he/she first of heard of "the story". He (let's make it a "he" for practical purposes) starts pursuing it with the zeal of Woodward and Bernstein tracking down the Watergate story. The author takes frequent pauses from the story to reflect on his own attitude towards the coveted objects, his tireless pursuit of trut ...more
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves this site
Recommended to Mahlon by: C-Span
Shelves: read-2009
Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books too Much tells the story of John Gilkey, a Narcissistic book thief who uses his job at Saks Fifth Avenue in SF to steal credit card numbers so that he can finance the library to which he believes he's entitled, and Ken Sanders, a rare book dealer turned detective, who is determined to catch him. Gilkey's story is merely a jumping off point for Bartlett however, she uses it to take the reader on a fascinating tour of the world of rare book collect ...more
 Δx Δp ≥ ½ ħ
edited review:

1. I want to apologize for the all the recommendations from me yesterday. I only pressed the send button once--I'm not sure what happened. Urggghh...this is so terrible...
Again, I'm very sorry. [image error]
Sprange Ben Lend Splotches Abruptly

2. gini nih kalo baca ulang. bintangnya harus turun satu. terjemahannya bikin deg-degan. rating tepatnya seh 3 [image error]
jadi penasaran sama bahasa Inggrisnya [image error]


Jika An
Sep 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Man who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett is a work of narrative non-fiction. This means it's most likely not going to be a snooze like your earth science textbook! I think that anybody reading this review most likely loves books. If you don't love books, why oh why are you here?
Read the rest of my review here
May 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Semua pencuri buku adalah pembohong sejati!

Baru kali ini saya menyesal bisa membaca dengan cepat! Walau setiap hari memaksa membaca hanya sekian halaman, tetap saja buku ini selesai dalam hitungan hari. Ceritanya sungguh sayang untuk ditamatkan dalam waktu singkat. Apa boleh buat, lain kali ini ini pasti saya baca lagi, lagi dan lagi.

Bagi kolektor buku, buku dinilai bukan dari isinya. Bahkan banyak diantara mereka yang tidak membaca buku koleksinya. Mereka menilai buku dari bentuk fisik, saat p
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Anne by: Mikki
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I gave up any hope to get through the debris of this book after about 20% of it.
What a pity. What sounded like a brilliant idea, turned out to be quite a boring read...
Random dropping of titles of the rare books and bits and bobs of history did not do any favours for the book.
It is just not for me.
May 31, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to e.c.h.a by: goodreads indonesia
OK...jadi begini ceritanya kenapa buku ini hanya cocok mendapatkan bintang 2 dari saya.

Saat pertama memegang buku ini, jujur saya berharap lebih untuk buku ini. Ingin tahu seberapa besar tokoh-tokoh di buku ini mencintai buku. Tapi kok setelah membacanya, yang ada saya menangkap mereka semua ini tidak cinta buku yah? Atau....mereka mengartikan "cinta" terhadap buku dalam pandangan yang berbeda dengan saya yah?

Saya melihat mereka semua seperti ter-obsesi, hanya mencari keuntungan dari sebuah buku
Mar 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anybody who loves books
Fascinating book about the true story of John Gilkey who over a period of years stole many valuable books, mainly from rare book dealers, usually using stolen credit card numbers. In some ways he was quite ingenious, but the most amazing thing is he really felt no guilt at all.In fact he really deserved these books as far as he was concerned and actually felt the book dealers were to blame for him not being able to afford them. Quite a reprehensible my opinion anybody who steals b ...more
Moira Russell
Well, this guy didn't love books "too much," or indeed at all apparently; he didn't even like to read. He fastened on books purely as a cultural status symbol and that was it. Nevertheless, an interesting portrayal of a fascinating con man, even if told in near-enervating prose.
"Greed is Greed."
Too much greed for books might lead to collecting and then stealing as a form of collecting. More greed might lead to selling stolen books to get more money for other wants or even more books.
That is about books.
Yet how true is this quote. When people start lists of wants and seek out ways to attain those wants, people can create a personal hell for themselves. A very human situation: Wants lead to more wants and even more wants until greed creates a life problem. The want list
”Although I haven’t become a bibliomaniac, I now see myself as an ardent collector, no longer of carnelians, and Pixy Stix straws, but of stories. Searching for them, researching them, and writing them gives my life shape and purpose the way that hunting, gathering and cataloging books does for the collector. We are all building narratives.”

I used to be a collector of books. My husband would say I still am. However, the twenty or so boxes of books that traveled with me from New Jersey to Delawar
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mother and I share and talk about Books. We like a lot of the same, and enjoy a great share and discussion. I love to be a mini eavesdropper on her book group and have never felt I have found quite the book group of my own. I talk about books with Melissa, who loves historical fiction, with Elizabeth who loves fiction, Betsy who loves good writing, and Samantha who loves a good story. I read some of Hoffman's Ritual and Spontaneity in the Psychoanalytic Process with Jane, and a book comes ali ...more
Lauren Stoolfire
When it came time to choose a book about books for the third task of Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett came to mind immediately. I've had my eye on this for a while since I started noticing it coming and going from the library quite a bit in the last few months. I have to say that this nonfiction book lived up to my expectations - it's tells the tale of John Charles Gilkey, a man who has stolen hundreds of thousand dollars worth o ...more
Generally I'm a sucker for books about books, so I expected to like this more than I actually did. But, although Allison Hoover Bartlett writes well, she never quite managed to convince me that this book was anything other than a magazine article that got out of hand. John Charles Gilkey, the serial book thief at the center of the story, is not completely dull, but he's not as interesting as the author seems to believe and certainly not interesting enough to warrant a 250+ page book. I think tha ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I needed to read something completely different, and somehow stumbled across this title lurking on my shelves. By no means is it a perfect book. It is written in journalistic style and I wouldn't categorize it as either poorly- or well-written. It might easily have had other titles:

The Obsessed: Rare Book Dealers, Collectors and Thieves
The World of Rare Books: Dealers, Collectors, Thieves

I think the author might have organized it better. She sometimes lost the chronology of her story, and in doi
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Allison Hoover Bartlett is the author of the national bestseller, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel, art, science and education, for the New York Times, the Washington Post, San Francisco Magazine, and other publications. Her original article on book thief John Gilkey ...more

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“A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents.” 15 likes
“The difference between a person who appreciates books, even loves them, and a collector is not only degrees of affection, I realized. For the former, the bookshelf is a kind of memoir; there are my childhood books, my college books, my favorite novels, my inexplicable choices. Many matchmaking and social networking websites offer a place for members to list what they're reading for just this reason: books can reveal a lot about a person. This is particularly true of the collector, for whom the bookshelf is a reflection not just of what he has read but profoundly of who he is: 'Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they can come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them,' wrote cultural critic Walter Benjamin.” 13 likes
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