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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

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  12,493 ratings  ·  2,183 reviews
Set within the 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 books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett pl
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published September 17th 2009 by Riverhead Books (first published August 1st 2009)
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Shanae Yeah, I wondered this too. She mentions it only sat on her desk for three years, but in the very next sentence, she says "did not returning it make me…moreYeah, I wondered this too. She mentions it only sat on her desk for three years, but in the very next sentence, she says "did not returning it make me a thief? Or was I a thief only as long as I kept it?" So, she speaks in past-tense, which makes me think she returned it. But, it is really not clear. (less)

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Average rating 3.43  · 
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Start your review of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
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

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
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Collecting is like a hunger, and having one more book doesn't quench the longing for another."

I rediscovered this book on my shelves when I reorganized everything and thought it would be a good choice for the "true crime" part of the Reading Women Challenge. It is an interesting peek into the world of book collectors and book thieves, and the author had a lot of face time with a notorious thief who never stays incarcerated for long.
Lisa Vegan
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
Vikas Singh
Jul 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: owned-book
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 ...more
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
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
Blondish And Bookish
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is partially about the notorious book thief John Gilkey, and the bookseller who became obsessed with catching him, Ken Sanders, and partially about the rare book industry in general.

Author Allison Bartlett manages to contact John and repeatedly interview him, exploring the mindset of someone who feels it's really not wrong to “acquire” books without paying for them, since he deserves them.

Ken Sanders has spent years trying to defeat book thieves in general, and John in particular. He
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
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
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).
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
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
 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 3¼ [image error]
jadi penasaran sama bahasa Inggrisnya [image error]


Jika A
Anne (On semi-hiatus)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 character...in my opinion anybody who steals b ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
3 stars

A book that gives great information about rare books and rare book collectors, but is top heavy with incidental information. The life of Charles Gilkey - the book thief - was interesting and worth the read. This book could have easily been cut down to about 180 pages and still relayed the meat of the thief and the detective.

Unless you are a rare book collector I would not recommend this book.
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
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.
Anita Dalton
This book engrossed me for reasons I did not anticipate when I started reading it. The story of this particular book thief is not as interesting as some other book thieves of whom I have read. John Gilkey, who remains unrepentant concerning his thefts of rare books from dealers, may one day become a man who steals rare books from libraries, as the book indicates he may be doing right now, but his thefts were more prosaic: He stole credit card numbers during his job as a retail clerk and used the ...more
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. ...more
”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
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
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
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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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Calling all bibliophiles! What better way to celebrate the joy of reading than with a book about, well, books? To create this list, we took...
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“A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents.” 18 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.” 18 likes
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