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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  7,059 Ratings  ·  579 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
Published June 1st 2010 by Random House Audio
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Jessica Laddaga
I think it would be. It really focuses more on the theft part and his actual involvement in the cases. During the book Bob gets in a car accident and…more

I think it would be. It really focuses more on the theft part and his actual involvement in the cases. During the book Bob gets in a car accident and there is alcohol involved. He comments on how that affected his career and his personal life. The only violence is maybe a shoot out here and there during some of the stings. The book is very well written and a joy to read. (less)
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Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
May 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jonathan Lopez
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-history, fun, memoirs, art
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
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very fascinating read. It catalogues the career of the ONLY full time Art theft agent. Over his career he recovered Geronimo's headrest, an 800 year old piece of armor and even an original Bill Of Rights missing for over a hundred years. All total the value of his recovered art is well over 250 MILLION DOLLARS. It was written very well and was actually quite entertaining.
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
Rebecca Curtis
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Stefan-Iulian Tesoi
I was searching for the 'adventure and thrill' factor when I decided to read this book, unfortunately it didn't deliver, it turns out that FBI stings that involve stolen art are not that captivating. This is a big spoiler but since I don't really recommend this book I will cough it out: the biggest operation in this book, the recovery of stolen paintings worth $300 million turns out to be a failure. It's not the first time when I read about FBI's epic failures and probably not the last.
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I might have given it 3 stars, but I was turned off by the ego of the author. He was always right, no one else was as good, and the way he talked about the FBI made me wonder why he ever wanted to work there. No doubt he did good things and was good at his job, but his attitude was what turned this book sour for me.
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

Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Diane, Jan F., Carol, Susan
Recommended to Doreen by: Saw it here???
Former FBI agent Robert Wittman and writer, John Shiffman present an amazing true story of efforts to recover stolen art pieces. Paintings, sculptures, archaeological finds, coin collections, stamps, war relics, and historical documents all fall under this category.

The stories are amazing! Both the cunning and stupidity of art thieves and the fences who sell these items are incredible. The FBI and other world agencies employ elaborate sting operations to recover these stolen pieces. Most art i
Nov 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-art
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
Jul 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
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
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of White Collar
Felt like I was reading the autobiography of that FBI agent in the TV series White Collar, but as a richer experience, considering that this is a true story. White Collar is like milk chocolate -- sweet, easy, and fun. Priceless tastes more like dark chocolate -- not so sweet, but meaningful, and as I gained understanding of artifacts and art pieces, it was fun in the end. He often started an FBI story, inserted some geeky background info when the suspense was high, then finished the story of ca ...more
April Helms
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-crime
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
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Mike Patrick
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't often read memoirs because I could care less about some stranger's life. But this offering was a joy to read. Bob Wittman is our hero and his exploits to recover historic treasures could resemble a mini series on HBO. The art thieves, shady gangsters and government bureaucratic bullies all made for a compelling examination of Bob's career.

The most interesting element were his historic accounts of the art in question. I felt I was back at IU in a upper level art history seminar. Have to
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The world of art crime is something that (sorry) has only been informed in terms of movies like The Thomas Crown Affair and National Treasure. That's precisely the power of the insight into this book: these are not victimless crimes. Whitman makes the point that when art is stolen, history and national identity/pride disappear with it. The details of 20 years of undercover work are what makes this zip along. Whitman works all over the world, originally as the FBI's only art crime agent. The epis ...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
Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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“Art thieves steal more than beautiful objects; they steal memories and identities. They steal history.” 1 likes
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