Saturday, March 12, 2011
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
New York, Crown Publishers, 2010
325 p. Memoir
I love heist movies—The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job are two of my favorites. Any of the stories told in the book Priceless by Robert K. Wittman could be made into the next heist movie. Most certainly there will be a movie made about Wittman’s career as the FBI investigator who recovered some of the world’s priceless stolen treasures.
Robert K. Wittman is a charming, educated man. When he joined the FBI in his 30s, he had been running a small chain of farm newspapers in several states. He was used to being a salesman, being ingratiating, and smooth. He also was a musician and a student of art and antiques. He brought those skills into his FBI career and later into his career as an undercover agent, recapturing over $225 million dollars in lost artworks and historical artifacts. One reviewer says that “if Robert Wittman didn’t already exist, Dan Brown would have made him up.”
This is just a plain fun read. Each chapter tells about a heist and the subsequent recovery of the stolen items. Along the way, the reader learns about the history of the art or antiquity, so there’s a bit of learning that goes on as well. In each of these cases, Wittman had to learn as much as he could about the stolen items and design a plan to recover them. He had to create a cover for himself, ingratiate himself with the crooks and enact the recovery.
I hadn’t expected to learn as much as I did. One reviewer said, “Priceless can read at times, not unpleasantly, as if an art history textbook got mixed up at the printer with a screenplay for The Wire.” And, oh my I did love The Wire! I do have to say that I was really disappointed to learn that Antiques Roadshow may not always be all it’s cracked up to be. “$2 million dollars. I can’t believe it—for this soup ladle? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Check out Wittman’s website, particularly the News section: http://www.robertwittmaninc.com/
A review in the New York Times: http://www.blogger.com/goog_1350714798
Terry Gross interview on Fresh Air: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128452166