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 20-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 compelling 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.
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.
©2010 Robert K. Wittman (P)2010 Random House
"More realistic than The Thomas Crown Affair, more entertaining than Catch Me If You Can. It's hard to believe one undercover FBI Agent rescued so many cultural and national treasures......but it's all true.” (Jack Garcia, former FBI undercover agent and New York Times best-selling author of Making Jack Falcone)
A while back, I saw this book here 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 Bureau'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.
I heard an interview with the author on the radio and that's why I decided to download this book. Robert Wittman was an engaging guest with a unique accent, discussing a world most of us are not privy to. I think the format of the book and the stories themselves were interesting and what you would expect after reading the description. However, the narrator gave a bland, monotone reading of the book. His attempts at accents were okay at best. There was little variation in expression, which made it difficult to focus on the story... my mind would wander a bit thinking about art or some tangent and I would have to "rewind" my iPod. I would recommend reading the book instead of listening to this rendition.
I enjoy most FBI books (even the bad ones) but this is one of the best I've read in a while. This guy really loves art and that adds an extra layer of passion to the story beyond just the standard catching bad guys. I even found most of the bad guys in the story more complicated than the standard mobsters and drug traffickers that populate other FBI books--these guys might be scum, but the mere fact that they deal in art and not cocaine makes them, well, a bit more interesting. I knew nothing about art theft before and learned a lot. Like all FBI books, this one has its share of self-congratulating and whining about bureaucracy, but--on both counts--less so than most other FBI books. Hardly great literature, but a very entertaining read.
An intriguing story that I just couldn't walk away from. I'm not an art lover, but I'm now a lover of this book and have recommended it to some friends.
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I’m convinced that everyone Robert knew kept telling him: “You have such an interesting job! You’ve seen so much! Man, you should write a book!”
… and he did just that.
Intriguing and unpredictable.
This book would be similar to Catch me if you can (although from the opposite perspective), or Ghost in the Wires.
I think he did a good jobs with names and accents, did move slow at times, and could get a touch sleepy.
It really motivated me to learn more about art crime.
It was amazing to me how little these art treasures were valued by the FBI hierarchy and how few resources were allocated for their recovery.
Book addict! As soon as I finish listening the book I immediately move to another. In spare time, I love to read :)
A wonderful look back at one's successful life of good versus greed. An amazing story recounting recovery of important pieces of human history and culture by a few FBI individuals and then small unit devoted and passionate about importance of the art. The message: it is not about putting bad guys in jail, but being able to offer current and future generations a glance into the past. A read worth listening!
My preference for a good story is something totally unusual and not run of the mill stuff. Give me something I haven't heard before.
It was pretty good, interesting interactions between characters. I like that he wrote about the trouble inside the bureau also. There's no lack of narcissistic jackasses out there trying to prove their worth on either side of the law. Some scary situations when you're dealing with your life on the line and it's crazy when you're working towards a takedown and then your handlers decide to screw with everything you've spent countless dangerous hours putting together. Yup, somebody will die.
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