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

Fan Club Reviews of best titles on art fashion, artists, history, photography. Check out our top reviews and see what others have to say about the best art and photography books of the year. Check out Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures Community Reviews - Find out where to download Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures available in multiple formats:Paperback,Hardcover,Kindle,Audible Audiobook,Audio CD Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures Author:Robert K. Wittman,John Shiffman Formats:Paperback,Hardcover,Kindle,Audible Audiobook,Audio CD Publication Date:Jun 7, 2011


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 as the
son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was
nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to
catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and
Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.
 
In this
page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his
recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an
ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the
Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final
Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of
the nation’s first African-American regiments.
 
The
breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world
to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and
Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign
governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill
of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques
Roadshow.

 
By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved
hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities. He says
the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what
is worth more --a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried
into battle? They're both priceless. 
 
The art thieves
and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to
foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners.  The smuggler who
brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a
high-ranking diplomat.  The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms
from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con
man.  The museum janitor who made off with locks of George
Washington's hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one
would miss what he’d filched.
 
In his final case,
Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal
to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the
vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of
all.

Average Ratings and Reviews
review-bg

4.06

8858 Ratings

5

4

3

2

1


Ratings and Reviews From Market


client-img 4.3
173
88
24
12
6
client-img 3.81
3359
3207
988
4
0

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

5

Nov 04, 2019

In talking about this with friends, I called it an autobiography. Wittman calls it a memoir, and I suppose that is the more accurate term as there is very little having to do with his life other than his FBI career. Wittman tells us that even as a child he had been interested in working for the FBI. His neighbor was an agent and his favorite TV program was The F.B.I. with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. When he finally landed a job as agent, there was not as yet an FBI Art Crimes Unit.

Wittman tells us how In talking about this with friends, I called it an autobiography. Wittman calls it a memoir, and I suppose that is the more accurate term as there is very little having to do with his life other than his FBI career. Wittman tells us that even as a child he had been interested in working for the FBI. His neighbor was an agent and his favorite TV program was The F.B.I. with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. When he finally landed a job as agent, there was not as yet an FBI Art Crimes Unit.

Wittman tells us how he felt lucky that his first position was to be paired with a man in the property crimes squad in Philadelphia, a man who had more than a passing interest in investigating art crime. And as further luck would have it, in his first month with the bureau there were two museum thefts. Wittman's story continues as he went undercover in a number of cases where he was successful in recovering precious art.

There were a couple of cases that interested me a bit more than others. One involved the recovery of a Civil War battle flag. This flag had been carried at the front of a Corps d'Afrique unit and there were only 5 such flags known to exist. Wittman spent several pages providing background on how initially African Americans weren't allowed to participate in other than support positions, and then how they eventually served honorably. Another case involved the recovery of one of the original 14 copies of the Bill of Rights. After passing Congress, 14 copies were made: one to stay in Washington, DC and 13 others to be delivered to each of the original states for ratification. At the end of the Civil War, as Union soldiers captured Raleigh, North Carolina, that state's "copy" went missing.

Wittman tells of other cases where he went undercover. He went undercover in cases involving Rembrandt and Picasso and other names easily recognized even by those who aren't art followers, like me. Throughout, however, he talks about how important these works are to all of us. Simply put, they are our history and our heritage.

I continue to wonder why I am drawn to books having to do with lives and activities surrounding art, while having little interest in the works of art themselves. But I *am* drawn to this type of work and I will likely be content to find myself in front of another, either nonfiction or fiction. This memoir put a lot in context. It is very readable and I suspect that is due in large part to his co-writer, John Shiffman, an investigative reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. I think Wittman might not have more stories to tell, but I should watch for others by Shiffman. This was better than I might have expected and I enjoyed it thoroughly - 5-stars worth. ...more
4

Jul 28, 2013

"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 "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 whenever art and antiquities are stolen. He also founded and trained the FBI's Art Crime Team.

John Shiffman, an investigative reporter, worked as a team with Robert Wittman to write this informative and entertaining look at art theft, FBI undercover work, and government bureaucracy. ...more
4

Aug 20, 2018

Robert Wittman’s memoir about his 20-year career as an FBI agent specializing in art and cultural history crimes. He traveled internationally and worked with other countries’ law enforcement agencies to recover stolen art and antiquities, such as Geronimo’s war bonnet, North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights, a Rembrandt self-portrait, a Peruvian golden backflap (from a suit of armor), and more. The book takes each case, examines the history of the stolen property, and details the covert Robert Wittman’s memoir about his 20-year career as an FBI agent specializing in art and cultural history crimes. He traveled internationally and worked with other countries’ law enforcement agencies to recover stolen art and antiquities, such as Geronimo’s war bonnet, North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights, a Rembrandt self-portrait, a Peruvian golden backflap (from a suit of armor), and more. The book takes each case, examines the history of the stolen property, and details the covert work required to recover it. He weaves elements from his personal life into the narrative.

I found this book fascinating. It revolves around two of my personal passions: art and history. It includes intriguing elements such as art heists, fake deals, undercover subterfuge, and an insider’s view of the FBI. I flew through it. One of the most touching scenes in the book is the retrieval of the American Civil War battle flag from one of the first African American regiments to fight for the Union.

Wittman’s account gives a glimpse of the what the FBI is like, from the recognition and accolades when they resolve a high-profile case to the bureaucracy, turf wars, and personality conflicts. Wittman’s story was captivating, especially the details of his undercover work, how he gains the criminals’ confidence, appeals to their greed, and eventually obtains the necessary evidence needed to arrest them and recover the artwork. My only issue with it is the colloquial writing style (lots of discussion of facts and food). Recommended to those interested in art history, the FBI, or true crime. ...more
3

Aug 22, 2012

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 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 art thieves. To me, the whole concept of art crime being considered as almost a fashionable and less threatening crime despite the cowardly looting of truly priceless objects is quite fascinating. And it is a theme that the author also keeps harping on. The stories do get a bit bogged down in the telling however. So many of the investigations tend to run into each other and share many of the same basic concepts that the reader can get a bit lost. Though he isn't the world's best story-teller, Wittman does have a pretty amazing story to tell. ...more
2

Mar 07, 2011

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.
5

May 24, 2010

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 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 agents that ended Wittman’s government career, that and governmental bureaucracy both at home and abroad. It’s an old boys club filled with one upsmanship. What a shame especially since the final chapters hold out glimmers of hope of finding the Vermeer and Rembrandt stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. It was wrenching to hear one of the other Gardner paintings described as being badly damaged. Though I wish there was better news on the Gardner front that in no way takes away from the many other lovely things Wittman was able to retrieve in fact his descriptive art insider’s information made this book for me. For me this is one of the best art crime books I’ve read in years. ...more
3

Feb 16, 2011

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 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 and get overblown.

And it also seems as if he is tooting his horn a bit too much. Though in all fairness, it is a first person narrative. It's hard not to.

Towards the end, Wittman has to deal with red tape and this slows the pacing done.

However, I am very glad I read it. ...more
4

Feb 25, 2012

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 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 credit card or ask for a receipt), but the adrenalin rush of these adventures was compounded by how much of eternal value was at stake with each case. That I got to see it all through the eyes of a man I can so unabashedly admire was the real treasure. Read this book! ...more
4

May 06, 2015

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.
5

Apr 16, 2010

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 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 Rights.

Wittman also came closer than anyone else in the world to unraveling the mysterious 1990 robbery at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. His encounters with criminals closely associated with the theft make for some of the most riveting chapters in the book, providing new and surprising information about the heist and the probable whereabouts of the Gardner's missing Rembrandt and Vermeer...

The rest of my review is available online here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html...
...more
3

Dec 21, 2012

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 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 was barely even considered a crime, but over the course of 20 years, Wittman brought about some changes. In the end, the lumbering inefficiencies and petty egos of the bureaucracy came shining through, though.

This book chronicles Wittman’s early years in the FBI and then goes on to tell the fascinating tales of several lost and then recovered works of art. He begins with the artwork’s history, details its theft, and then goes on to describe how he helped get it back. One fascinating sidenote was information on differing police procedures in other countries, and how American agents work with them. Though not terribly in-depth in many places, it provided a decent overview and did educate me enough about art theft to know that, unsurprisingly, Hollywood almost always gets it wrong.
...more
5

Jun 12, 2011

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 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 shady dealers on Antiques Roadshow; and the recovery of more than $2 million in Revolutionary and Civil War era relics stolen from a Philadelphia museum. The story is fast-paced and straightforward; Wittman finds the right balance of giving just enough history behind the pieces and the thefts without it coming across as a lengthy arts and history lecture. His stories on what he has to do to infiltrate the less seemly side of society are fascinating and, at times, intense. This is a must-read for true crime and history fans. ...more
4

Dec 26, 2010

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 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 within the FBI. Overall, a great read and a nice shift from the types of books I read most often. ...more
4

Feb 15, 2018

Absolutely fascinating! Behind the scenes insight into the secret world of art and antique crime. The book keeps you on the edge of your seat as you follow an undercover FBI agent throughout his career. All I can think is that I would love to have a beer with Bob & just listen to more stories he has. Definitely recommended.
4

Dec 26, 2011

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.
3

May 26, 2018

Pretty good balance between biography, true crime, art, and the soul crushing pain of bureaucracy.
5

Mar 20, 2018

Really liked this book. An easy read but a fun one. Reminded me of white collar. Liked to see how an agent gets tips and goes undercover and different interesting cases. Made me want to go to Barnes meseum.
5

Mar 27, 2018

I am a sucker for a good memoir of crime and justice, and this is one of the best. In his early 30s, Robert Wittman quit a career as an advertising man for an agricultural newsletter to try a hand at his dream job of being an FBI agent. A few chance accidents, like working the 1988 burglary of Rodin's "The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose" from a Philadelphia museum, lead to his true calling as an art theft expert.

As Wittman writes, art theft thrills us in ways that more ordinary crime I am a sucker for a good memoir of crime and justice, and this is one of the best. In his early 30s, Robert Wittman quit a career as an advertising man for an agricultural newsletter to try a hand at his dream job of being an FBI agent. A few chance accidents, like working the 1988 burglary of Rodin's "The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose" from a Philadelphia museum, lead to his true calling as an art theft expert.

As Wittman writes, art theft thrills us in ways that more ordinary crime (drugs, bank robbery, fraud), does not. Art is immensely, insanely valuable. A Leonard da Vinci painting sold for a cool $450 million last year, and while that is an outlier, anything by an artist that you've heard of is probably worth a few million dollars at least. Museums and private collections are ludicrously poorly secured compared to banks and other hard targets. Yet artwork is the furthest thing from fungible. A piece is only as good as its provenance. A famous stolen artwork is impossible to display and very difficult to sell. They must be ransomed back to the legitimate world.

As such, the best move is the undercover sting, a long con played on a thief looking to sell to Wittman's undercover alter-ego, elite gray-market broker Bob Clay. Wittman moves through his career breezily, describing how he took down a New Mexico dealer in Native American artifacts with eagle feathers (illegal to sell in the US, legal to possess in Europe), a Panamanian diplomat selling ancient Peruvian artifacts, and the hosts of Antiques Roadshow. The standard template involved a delicate game to get the mark to bring the goods to a hotel room, where Wittman would confirm authenticity and then signal SWAT to bust down the door. He was good at it, closing dozens of tricky cases and recovering perhaps $500 million in artwork.

Art and artifact theft is the fourth largest crime by financial value, after drugs, weapons, and financial fraud, but you wouldn't know it from how the FBI handles it. Italy has a 300 officer special detachment, the best in the world. France is in second place, and Europe in general well-organized to combat art theft. The FBI's squad never exceeded eight people, and was dissolved with Wittman's retirement. His last case, the appropriately named Operation Masterpiece to recover the paintings stolen from the Gardner Museum, was almost a fiasco due to bureaucratic turf struggles within the FBI.

If Wittmann fails at anythings, it's his stated goal of removing the glamour from art theft. Too often we think of its perpetrators as a Thomas Crown or Sophie Devereaux, a sophisticated and worldly criminal. In real life, they're mostly dumb thugs and dishonest brokers, with the occasional unscrupulous insider. Art theft is a crime against our common soul, a defacement of the human aesthetic legacy. And yet, as ugly as it is, Wittman can't help but take joy in his job. More than justice, it's about winning a game.

And hey, I'm putting together a crew for a job. Going to need a hacker, hitter, grifter, and thief. You in, or you out? ...more
3

Jan 01, 2011

I also posted a very similar review on Amazon.com.

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

I also posted a very similar review on Amazon.com.

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 interested in buying the works, or as a representative of a buyer. The book starts and ends with the unsuccessful attempt to retrieve paintings stolen from the Gardner museum in Boston. Wittman retrieved South American artifacts of the Moche culture, an American Civil War regimental flag, the manuscript of Pearl Buck's novel "The Good Earth", and many paintings. Typically he would work with other law enforcement agents, who would move in and arrest the those responsible when Wittman had arranged to meet the criminals at a hotel room where they thought they were going to exchange the artifacts for cash. Wittman would be the only police officer in the hotel room, which was bugged. After he verified as best he could that the objects were genuine, he would make a remark indicating that it was time for the other police officers to move in and make the arrests.

I was surprised to learn that the FBI basically has so few personnel dedicated to art crime out of about 13,000 agents (didn't know the FBI was that big, either). That only a handful of agents are dedicated to art crime is surprising, because solving art crimes tends to create favorable publicity, which the FBI loves. FBI investigations, of any sort, can be hampered by the tradition of assigning responsibility for case to the office in whose geographical jurisdiction it took place, regardless of whether or not anyone in that office is experienced in that kind of crime. There were often disagreements among FBI offices about who had jurisdication. Things could be worse when a crime involved work in other countries, for there was often disagreements between the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. When there were multiple local police forces involved and more than one FBI office involved, all sorts of power struggles could occur over who would get the credit for solving the case. Apparently this is what happended in the Gardner case.

...more
3

Mar 04, 2018

Another book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, this was an absolutely fascinating read. Wittman takes you into his world of recovering stolen art, and the many cases he was involved in-I think one of the most interesting ones to me was the Antiques Roadshow scam, as I remember watching that show!
4

Oct 17, 2012

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 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 other stories along the way. FBI agent Wittman worked not just on stolen paintings but also on looted artifacts and misappropriated cultural treasures. He often worked undercover, and his stories of duping greedy thieves in seedy hotel rooms are very satisfying. Not only do the good guys win, but art is returned to be appreciated by the public.

The writing here is workmanlike (Wittman enlisted a journalist as cowriter) but I didn't mind because the tales are so good. The backstory on Wittman's childhood is reasonably interesting and not drawn out. He also tells about how he went to trial for drunk-driving/manslaughter (and was acquitted) after a car accident that killed his good friend and FBI partner. This isn't particularly relevant to the art theft theme, but I think he had to address it since it dwarfs the rest of his career in the public record, and the authors do make an attempt to tie it to his approach as an FBI agent.

The book concludes with Wittman's effort to recover the Gardner paintings. If you follow the art world, you know he didn't succeed, because you would have heard about it. But he comes tantalizingly close and is apparently in contact with a syndicate that possesses the art. Then bureaucratic turf wars get in the way and the criminals shimmy out of the net. This part of the book is heavy-handed--there's a guy in Boston who comes off particularly badly and would probably want to issue a rebuttal--but having had no idea that there were any leads at all, I devoured the last fifty pages of this book. ...more
3

Jun 05, 2010

A while back, I saw this book listed at Audible while browsing, looked interesting (and I liked the sample), so dropped a credit on it; my library continues to have a long hold queue for the print version, which also influenced that decision.
I liked that the author didn't spend a long time on his background, getting to his FBI career fairly quickly. The accident that killed his first(?) partner takes up a fair amount of time, but can't really be ignored as the aftermath dragged on for years; A while back, I saw this book listed at Audible while browsing, looked interesting (and I liked the sample), so dropped a credit on it; my library continues to have a long hold queue for the print version, which also influenced that decision.
I liked that the author didn't spend a long time on his background, getting to his FBI career fairly quickly. The accident that killed his first(?) partner takes up a fair amount of time, but can't really be ignored as the aftermath dragged on for years; moreover, it spurred him to take an interest in art, awaiting a resolution. The stories were interesting, though they dragged in places, partly from his tone of self-congratulation ... he's far from modest! I came away feeling that Wittman had mixed motives in putting out the book, both to emphasize the importance of art crime cases, as well as to air a grudge against the Force's frustrating bureaucracy (Fred-in-Boston, he's looking at you!).
Would I recommend it? Yes, but ... I don't think I'd go the audio route again. Not to knock the narration at all, but there were a couple of places I just had to fast-forward through, which rarely happens, and that was even after I'd made the decision to take a break between the two 4-hr parts. Wittman's self-important personality got in the way enough to make what should have been a great story "overall okay" I'm afraid. I wish I'd been able to skim more. ...more
4

Nov 16, 2010

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 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 thinking that his colleagues and bosses would be well-informed, well-meaning professionals rescuing everything from beleaguered US citizens to spectacular pieces of fine art from the clutches of the bad guys. Instead, he learns through bitter experience, that the FBI can be the comfortable bastion of a small-minded, politically-motivated cohort for whom claiming credit and covering one's tushy rank right up there with the job of law enforcement. And fine art?? Hey, who cares about recovering priceless art that's being used as collateral for drugs or guns when it might mean sharing the limelight with another division or department? Wittman seems like a really good man, talented at his job, whose love and appreciation of art and historical artifacts trumped his taste for the bureaucratic game. Their loss, I say. ...more
5

Oct 17, 2014

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 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 is displayed in museums to be enjoyed and appreciated by many. Each piece has its own unique. significant, historical value. Each theft robs us all of the opportunity to admire beauty and learn about both recent and distant history.

Wittman reveals the difficulties encountered while maneuvering among the many agencies involved in these recovery missions both in the U.S. and abroad. The egos and territorial infighting often hamper these efforts. The cooperation necessary in finding these stolen items is not always present. Negotiating with the fences and ultimately, securing them for return to the places from which they were stolen is a tricky and dangerous job.

The manner in which these stories are told is riveting. Every page of this book is informative and exciting. There is no waste of words here. ...more
5

Dec 26, 2010

Robert Wittman recovered hundreds of millions of dollars of "priceless" paintings and antiquities. This is his story. It is one of the seedy, murky underbelly of the art world, where lives are lost, where money is exchanged, where, often, those who pilfer the works have little care for what they rob.

One of my top reads this year is The Gardner Heist. Naturally, when I saw this book at the library, I had to read it. I was not disappointed with this suspenseful, well-written story.

Among his many Robert Wittman recovered hundreds of millions of dollars of "priceless" paintings and antiquities. This is his story. It is one of the seedy, murky underbelly of the art world, where lives are lost, where money is exchanged, where, often, those who pilfer the works have little care for what they rob.

One of my top reads this year is The Gardner Heist. Naturally, when I saw this book at the library, I had to read it. I was not disappointed with this suspenseful, well-written story.

Among his many accomplishments, Wittman recovered an original copy of the United States Bill of Rights which was stolen from the North Carolina capital building by Union troops during the Civil war.

In addition, his credits include the recovery of a unique self portrait of Rembrandt, valued at 35 million, two Norman Rockwell paintings, the Rodin Mask of the Man with a Broken Nose and many Civil War artifacts. These are but a few of his success stories.

According to Wittman, before he retired, he was very close to obtaining the Veermer and Rembrandt paintings stolen from the Gardner museum in 1990.

Because of egos and bureaucratic nightmares, the deal slipped away.

I highly recommend this book. From the first page to the last, I couldn't put it down! ...more

Best Books from your Favorite Authors & Publishers

compare-icon compare-icon
Thousands of books

Take your time and choose the perfect book.

review-icon review-icon
Read Reviews

Read ratings and reviews to make sure you are on the right path.

vendor-icon vendor-icon
Multiple Stores

Check price from multiple stores for a better shopping experience.

gift-icon

Enjoy Result