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Editorial Reviews

Who knew book collecting could be so provocative? Yet in journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett’s hands, that rarefied world — and the eccentric characters who populate it — represents one of lust and obsession, and of crime and punishment. In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Bartlett, who first reported the true-crime tale for San Francisco magazine, introduces us to two rabid collectors, each a funhouse-mirror image of the other. There’s John Gilkey, the remorseless thief who swiped hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare books not for profit (he seldom unloaded from his robust collection), but for love. And there’s Ken Sanders — nicknamed “Bibliodick” by friends — the bookstore owner and dealer who relentlessly (and, in the end, successfully) pursues him.

Helping the six-hour narrative flow along — and flow it does, effortlessly weaving in a history of book collecting (and book thieving) with all the gumshoe action — is narrator Judith Brackley’s smooth delivery. Measured, steady, patient, her voice contains the quiet rhythms of an NPR reporter or a Sunday school teacher. But this isn’t to say Brackley’s interpretation doesn’t veer toward buoyant effervescence from time to time. Indeed, describing Gilkey’s bold crime sprees elicits an especially enthusiastic cadence — you can almost imagine the author’s jaw dropping when she heard the amazing anecdotes for the first time.

Though Bartlett makes a noble attempt to delve into the psychology of her characters, she doesn’t make many inroads, instead just circling around the same question over and over again — namely, just what it is about books, of all things, that seem to turn normal people mad. The most delicious moments, in fact, may come when Bartlett inserts herself into the story; as Gilkey begins confiding more and more about his crimes, the objective journalist becomes entangled in the narrative, wondering what actions, if any, she should take. As read by Brackley, these confessional moments are when the book really comes alive, drawing you in as if it’s Bartlett herself speaking right into your ear. —Jaime Buerger

Publisher's Summary

John Charles Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett befriended both eccentric characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure.

With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes and how Sanders ultimately caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the listener in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

©2009 Alison Bartlett (P)2010 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A captivating cat-and-mouse game and a fascinating exploration of why people are so passionate about books." (Julia Flynn Siler, author of the New York Times bestseller The House of Mondavi

What members say

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  • Overall

A good story ruined by a narcissistic author

Okay, narcissism is too strong, but you get the idea. Here is a story of a con man, and of the rare book field at large. It's a captivating, and somewhat scary, story of theft and its results. Unfortunately, it comes off disjoint, primarily because of the author herself. The story becomes a blur of the story of the con man, the story of the con man's targets, and the author's own impressions on books and her emotions towards them. Frankly, her autobiographical segments just are not as good as her reporting. Likewise, her opinions are sometimes jarring, not necessarily wrong but very idiosyncratic and unsupported, and such a distraction to the rest of the material. Frankly, some of her opinions on what book collections means seem incredibly strange to me. This would be much more interesting as a shorter article, one much more on target.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved It

Wikipedia defines "bibliomania" as "an obsessive–compulsive disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged." Having "bibliomania" is probably bad, but being a "bibliophile" (someone who "who loves to read, admire and collect books, often amassing a large and specialized collection"), is more admirable.

Do we have a word the digital book (audio and e-book) enthusiasts among us? Maybe "digi-bibliophile" or "e-bibliophile"? Can I trademark these terms? (A quick google search, done after thinking of the name, shows that I did not get to this first - oh well).

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is about bibliomaniacs, bibliophiles, and all the people in between. Bartlett structures her story around a John Gilkey, a mentally unbalanced thief who managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books via credit card fraud in the 1990s. Gilkey's crimes give us a window into the rarified world of rare book dealing and collecting.

I had no idea that there exists an "Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America" (ABAA), or that antiquarian book shows were such a big deal. It came as a surprise to me that rare book collectors collect mostly not to read their acquisitions, that the value of the book is less in its content but in its scarcity and historical significance. The catchphrase in rare book circles is to "never judge a book by its contents". Only first edition, first run books - in mint condition with their dust jackets intact - are valuable.

Some people think that the ascension of e-books will only increase the value of paper books that are beautifully constructed and have historical significance. The thinking goes that the rise of e-books will make paper books even more rare, and that we will do the bulk of our reading digitally while cherishing those certain physical books that we have an emotional connection with. Maybe.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a great read for the bibliophiles, e-bibliophiles, and e-bibliomaniacs among us. Highly recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 09-06-10


The world of the story - rare books - deserves five stars, well-researched and something I hadn't seen before. However, the author uses the line "I still didn't understand what made him steal rare books..." a gazillion times too many, long after the reader understands, the three Ken's understand and a dim witted geranium could have understood if given a fair chance. Therefore, by the end, the story is repetitive and anti-climatic, which is a pity because a tighter edit could have prevented this.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Good Listen!

I started this book right after buying it and didn't stop listening until it was finished. Living in Salt Lake and being familiar with Ken Sanders made it even more enjoyable for me. I have been telling everyone that this is a book they should buy.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

If you want to learn about book collecting...

I couldn't keep going! I made it about halfway through this story. The ideal listener wants to learn about the world of book collecting. It teaches you all about it! The mystery (?) is secondary and I just couldn't hang in there to find out if there really was a mystery underneath the story line. The reviews I read said it was for people who love books. But this is for the lover of the physical book itself - not the story inside.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Peter
  • Casper, WY, United States
  • 08-23-10

Steal this review

This book is definitely a niche listen...I am into reading/listening about the "art of the steal" of books, maps, art, etc. Well done Allison, the historical tie ins' added most excellently to the story. The narration was well done and made the characters interesting. Not for everyone, but for this listener... priceless!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Like the subject matter - don't like the narrator

I read about this book awhile back and was immediately intrigued. I really like the subject matter, but the narrator is monotone and offputting. I think this is one I might have to read in hard copy.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Betty
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 05-23-10


As a book lover, I found this book disturbing and depressing. It's definitely readable, but the thief's amorality, the disinterest of the police, and the rather diffident presentation of these bothered me.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Story, Great narration

A very compelling story about a little-known compulsion. Excellant narration and character development. Helped me to understand a little about my own love of books. Am looking forward to more writing by this author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful