Miamienne's Reviews > The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
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really liked it


The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is strangely addictive. It's like getting a private, VIP tour of a book thief's life. Bartlett even tags along with John Gilkey to a bookstore to see how he cases a bookstore and, later on, how he sizes up potential victims via telephone. She visits him in jail and he arranges for her to meet his mother. Bold stuff in this book about John Gilkey (the book thief).

Still, this book is not an indepth biography of John Gilkey since a lot detailed information about the things that shaped him are only touched on or left out: his family background, interpersonal relationships (siblings, coworkers, friends, college roommates, prison cellmates), school/college experiences, etc. In addition, Bartlett never fully explored the influence of Gilkey's father on Gilkey or Gilkey's unusual attachment to his father.

Although Bartlett interviewed Ken Sanders (the "bibliodick") and provided some insight into "extreme" book collectors (one collector slept on a cot in his kitchen because the rest of the house was piled with books), Gilkey's story, by far, usurps the book.

John Gilkey is angry. He's a wild thinking, uncontrollable, unrepentant criminal hiding behind a Mr. Rogers persona. He's very intriguing and Bartlett often opines, "He loved books." She tries to reconcile his behavior as rare book addiction or ambitious love for an unfulfilled dream (a 1st edition collection of the Modern Library's list of 100 best books). I just don't buy it. Gilkey seems more like The Man Who Wanted the Good Life on Easy Street by Selling Stolen Property... ANY Kind of Stolen Property Not Just Books than The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. In the end, Gilkey's story is the perfect example of Fyodor Dostoevsky's famous observation:

"While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him."

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