Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

ManWhoLovesBooks_JKTF.inddTitle: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/288

Publication: Riverhead Books; September 17, 2009


A riveting account of one man’s obsession with rare books, another man’s unrelenting efforts to catch him, and the woman who documented it all.

Persistent lying and stealing.  Check. Superficial charm.  Check. Lack of remorse or inability to care about hurting others.  Check. Narcissism and sense of extreme entitlement.  Check and CHECK.

John Charles Gilkey could be the poster child for Antisocial Personality Disorder and he’s fixated on rare books.  In him, Allison Hoover Bartlett finds an inconsistent and unreliable source who acts as her guide on a literary odyssey through the world of rare books and his obsession with possessing them through acts of fraud and theft.

Spending whole years researching Gilkey and Ken Sanders, the book dealer who made it his personal mission to catch him, Bartlett finds herself, at times, walking the fine line between right and wrong to get her story.  This conflict actually made the work all the more authentic and exciting.  Gilkey confides in her about crimes past and Bartlett wrangles with her conscience–should she report him and risk scaring him off, ending their professional relationship (and her research)?

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much details the world of rare books, making it seem enticing and almost seductive.  Each collector’s hunt for the book, the crowning jewel of his or her collection, keeps the dealers in business.  What used to be a rich, white man’s game is now seeing an influx of younger, more diverse collectors.

With colorful characters, steady pacing, tales of deception and illicit behavior, and dogged efforts to catch a criminal,  The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an exciting, educational, and thoroughly entertaining read.  If you’re looking for a great nonfiction book for a challenge or just want a change of pace, I would recommend this book without hesitation.  Many thanks to Lydia at Riverhead for this review copy!

Do you collect rare or first edition books?  How about signed editions?  I have a few signed books–Jodi Picoult came to my local library a few years ago and signed two books for me and I went to Megan McCafferty’s book signing a few years ago at B&N.  I don’t have any rare or first edition books–the only old books I have are ones from my childhood that I keep for nostalgic reasons.

20 responses to “Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

  1. Must have this book. Stealing is wrong, but I feel this guy, can’t help it. I feel for the book dealer, too.

    I thought about collecting for a short time, but didn’t have the funds. I couldn’t get as many books then. I still have some firsts of McMurtry, Updike, Tyler and Hempel. Not too many.

  2. Sounds good! I’m going to have to check this one out. 🙂

  3. As I was first reading your review, somehow I missed that this was non-fiction! I guess that’s really good, right? It definitely sounds like a great, compelling read — and usually my fear with reading “true stuff” is that it’s . . . well, dull. And I just don’t have time for dullness! But this sounds great.

    I definitely collect books, but I wouldn’t say that any are rare. I have started collecting the British versions of some of my favorite books — like Harry Potter, of course. I stuffed my suitcase full with English books after my trip in the spring! 🙂 I do have some signed copies authors have sent, but haven’t been able to snag super-valuable copies from any of my favorite contemporary authors. Still, we’ll see what the future holds 🙂

  4. I just read this one also and really enjoyed it, I’ve never read non-fiction so quickly!

  5. I just sort of skimmed your review because I will be reading this soon, but even that made me all antsy to get to it already! I think I’ll finish my current book, read a quick library book, and then dive into this one.

  6. I will put this on my list. Typically, I don’t read non-fiction, but this sounds very good.

  7. I guess I sort of collect books (besides stockpiling them on my shelves, I mean). I have a few different editions of books I really love (like THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH and THE LIVES OF CHRISTOPHER CHANT). I also have two signed books, ones I got when I actually met the author. I don’t think I’d get an autographed book that I hadn’t gotten myself unless the author was dead or there was no way I’d be able to get my own autograph (like Diana Wynne Jones, maybe).

  8. Like Natalie, I too loved this book! And similar to Megan’s comment of “missed this was non-fiction” – I felt the same way when reading the tale. I had a hard time remembering that Gilkey is actually a deplorable thief vs. a well crafted character of an author’s imagination.

    I am dying for a first ed. of GONE WITH THE WIND. I found a couple copies on ebay for only $100, but figure they must be fake since Barlett notes this is one of the more rare titles to find…

    • As for GWTW, I think the book has to be imprinted May 1936 for it to be the actual first edition–I learned that little fact in THIS book! Despite the fact that many copies of GWTW say ‘First Edition’, only the May 1936 are actual first editions. 🙂

  9. I saw a review copy of this at work and really wanted to read it (but now I don’t know what’s happened to it, so I doubt I’ll get a free copy of my own… unless I follow the path of Gilkey… moihahaha!). I’m glad you found it rewarding and fun, because one thing I worried is that it might start out strong but then ultimately peter out.

    I don’t collect rare editions or even signed copies – I do have a few signed copies, but those were from instances where I met the author in question, so they are also personalized which is really what makes them special, not the author’s signature itself! Darn! I guess the Gilkey path really isn’t for me after all!

  10. I love autographed books and I do have a couple first editions that are autographed, but they’re not old, so they’re probably not worth anything to anyone but me.

  11. Great review on this one; i have it to read as well.

  12. Sounds interesting that the author kind of became a part of the story in a way. And I don’t think I have a first edition of anything!

  13. This looks so good…it’s been popping up in a few places over the last few days, and it’s definitely caught my eye.

    I don’t normally keep my books, but I do have a few signed copies taking up valuable shelf real estate.

  14. An interesting book. I don’t think I have ever searched for first editions or even signed books. I am presently on the hunt for a few books that I had as a child which are presently proving to be a little elusive.

  15. It seems only fitting since you gave it 4 bookmarks that I go to Amazon and purchase this for the hubby..He is my ultimate “man who loved books too much” I can’t get out of Walmart without a book in the cart and God forbid I accidently drive by B&N or Borders too slow. He is out the door and I need to rent a truck to get the books home.

  16. I have signed copies of novels by Margaret Atwood (my all time favorite author), Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos (my favorite singer who also wrote a book). Unfortunately I didn’t get to MEET any of these people but having the autographs does make me happy.

  17. I have a couple signed by David Sedaris that I love! I met him, too, and he was hilarious. I treasure those, a lot. Mostly I think I judge the quality of books on how much I like them and the nostalgia that they bring up.

  18. I’m so glad you were Reeled In by my book! Thanks for the great review.

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