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

Priceless by Robert K. Wittman
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's review
Feb 04, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 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 the very wealthy. Many cases he works is because of the value of the stolen work, in some cases one a small painting or an antique artifact. Hundreds of man hours, thousands of dollars are spend, and lives are endangered to retrieve these art pieces. They were stolen from the wealthy and returned to the wealthy and their private homes (sometimes to museums, too). It makes me wonder at the power the rich possess-- essentially they can command the FBI. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the recovery of stolen art. I am just amazed when, in one case, is was a tiny painting by Rembrandt (5"x7") worth $35 million!
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Katie Art theft is property crime, and it's not remotely unusual for the FBI to be involved in solving a property crime case. The fact that the owner of the painting is loaded is irrelevant.

Artguy And yet I wonder if the FBI ever works property crime cases for individuals who are not loaded. The answer is no, because their property is not worth the time to spend in recovering it. I understand the pragmatics of it, and yet I still find it inequitable that the FBI works to return valuable private property to wealthy private individuals who are not sharing their private property publicly.

Katie Feds are just cops on a federal level. Cops return (or at least make the effort to return) stolen private property to private individuals all the time, and the Feds do the same thing - again, on a federal level.

I'm no expert, but there are certain conditions that must be present to make a crime a federal crime, and one of those is crossing state lines. Every case I recall from the book involved stolen artwork crossing state lines, so the Feds were by law going to get involved.

I'm guessing there were other conditions that caused the crime to be investigated by the Feds instead of local law enforcement, but like I said, I'm no expert and have no idea what they are.

Artguy Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book and don't see the author as doing any wrong. I understand that the FBI gets involved when the case is big enough and it crosses state/international lines. I am just saying that it seems a bit concerning when the federal government goes to such lengths to return someone's personal property, and am suggesting that it is primarily because of their net worth. I don't blame him for doing the job at all.

Katie Since we're GR friends now, I'll just say "agree to disagree."

Ahh but then I'll just say that they're not on the case because some nouveau-riche a-hole bought a Picasso to show he'd "made it" - they're on the case because, just like with any other crime that falls within their jurisdiction, they have to be. By law. I still don't see your argument it's the collector's net worth that brings in the Feds.

Wittman also makes the point - a point I agree with - that whether in a private collection or public museum, art is the story of our cultural existence as humans and is worth fighting for. Museum pieces can be sold to private collectors and private collectors can sell or bequeath pieces to museums, so it all comes full circle.

Okay NOW I'm done. Probably. : )

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