Priceless : how I went undercover to rescue the world's stolen treasures

by Robert K. Wittman

Paper Book, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : Crown Publishers, c2010.

Description

Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI's Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career, offering a real-life international thriller. The son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career going undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. Wittman tells 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 rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation's first African-American regiments. The art thieves and scammers he caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners. Wittman has saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities, but he considers them all equally priceless.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

This behind-the-scenes look at the immense skill and knowledge required to execute such an operation makes his stories even more gripping.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
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)
LibraryThing member acwbooks
A riveting book & a great read about exactly what the title says it's about. I can't imagine how anyone
has the courage for this sort of life, but I sure enjoyed reading a book about it.
LibraryThing member karieh
The most interesting elements of “Priceless” were the facts regarding art and art theft and the awe and respect with which the author describes the pieces he views and recovers.

“Americans, in particular, are said to be uncultured when it comes to high art, more likely to go to a ballpark than a museum. But as I tell my foreign colleagues, the statistics belie that stereotype. Americans visit museums on a scale eclipsing sports. In 2007, more people visited the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington (24.2 million) than attended a game played by the Nations Basketball Association (21.8 million), the National Hockey League (21.2 million), or the National Football League (17 million).”

I was shocked by that fact. I was also surprised by the different priority level that the US places on art theft, compared to other countries. Despite the record prices being paid for historical and artistic pieces now, the penalties for their theft weren’t comparable. The trails that Wittman goes through trying to deal with and change the investigation procedures in these cases was very interesting.

But the points at which I was most interested in this story, in the memoirs of this FBI agent were when he described his reactions to the stolen treasures he tried to restore to their place in the world.

“This was my first antiquity case, but as I would learn, looters are especially insidious art thieves. They not only invade the sanctuaries of our ancestors, plundering burial grounds and lost cities in a reckless dash for buried treasure, they also destroy our ability to learn about our past in ways other art thieves do not. When a painting is stolen from a museum, we usually know its provenance. We know where it came from, who painted it, when and perhaps even why. But once an antiquity is looted, the archaeologist loses the chance to study a piece in context, the chance to document history.”

The order to the cases seemed a bit disjointed to me…it was hard to follow or remember where in Wittman’s career we were and if major events or cases had come before or after the case he is describing.

And the description of the events did seem a bit removed from Wittman’s emotions…except for a very personal event that happens near the beginning of the story.

In general, though, this book about his undercover life inside a world I know little about proved interesting and a change from most of the memoirs I’ve read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LTFL_JMLS
Not as good as The Gardner Heist. It's all about Bob Wittman.
LibraryThing member madamepince
I liked it qutie a bit up to the last chapter, which is why I'm not giving it 4 stars. I kept wondering why Wittman wrote in detail about his career and included photos of himself, as well as crooks he captured. The last chapter answers that question.
LibraryThing member gregory_gwen
Not as good as The Gardner Heist. It's all about Bob Wittman.
LibraryThing member peterdarbyshire
An undercover investigator's account of his career tracking down international art thieves. It's like the movies, only real -- which means the criminals are a little more sad and pathetic. And sometimes get away with it.
LibraryThing member doomjesse
A great book for beginners on the topic of art theft. As a connoisseur of these type of books though I was looking for a little more. I loved the little known cases he mentioned and hoped their would be more of those up to then little known cases.

Unfortunately this book spends most of its time building up to the ultimately unsuccessful recovery of the Gardner heist pieces. While it was fascinating to read an insiders account of the Gardner heist task force. It was ultimately unfulfilling, partially because so much other material on this case has been published and partially because you know from the beginning it was unsuccessful.… (more)
LibraryThing member ForeignCircus
What an excellent read! This memoir has all the action and adventure of a great thriller with the added kick that it all really happened. Wittman eloquently describes how he found himself pulled into the rough and tumble world of undercover operations designed to recover stolen works of art, and shares his frustration that the issue generates so little attention in the U.S. and at the FBI itself. Gangsters, museum thieves, art scholars- this book has a little bit about them all and makes for a great summer read, especially for anyone who has ever enjoyed an episode of Antiques Roadshow. Highly recommended!… (more)
LibraryThing member jillstone
Great true story of an FBI agent who deals in stolen art. The stores behind the recovery of many important works are thrilling. The fact that the FBI doesn't find this to be a "sexy" enough department just shows how little history matters to them. Reads like fiction -- quick and exciting throughout.
LibraryThing member cjordan916
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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member dysmonia
If I could, I'd give this book 3.5 stars. I first heard of it during an interview with the author, Bob Wittman, on LipTV (see YouTube). He essentially created the FBI's Art Crime Team unit. This book is a memoir of his 20 years chasing priceless works of art stolen from museums and private homes on three continents. He obviously worked well with his ghostwriter, and they did a good job piecing together a smooth account of Wittman's experiences. The result is an informative and interesting book.… (more)
LibraryThing member dysmonia
If I could, I'd give this book 3.5 stars. I first heard of it during an interview with the author, Bob Wittman, on LipTV (see YouTube). He essentially created the FBI's Art Crime Team unit. This book is a memoir of his 20 years chasing priceless works of art stolen from museums and private homes on three continents. He obviously worked well with his ghostwriter, and they did a good job piecing together a smooth account of Wittman's experiences. The result is an informative and interesting book.… (more)
LibraryThing member dysmonia
If I could, I'd give this book 3.5 stars. I first heard of it during an interview with the author, Bob Wittman, on LipTV (see YouTube). He essentially created the FBI's Art Crime Team unit. This book is a memoir of his 20 years chasing priceless works of art stolen from museums and private homes on three continents. He obviously worked well with his ghostwriter, and they did a good job piecing together a smooth account of Wittman's experiences. The result is an informative and interesting book.… (more)
LibraryThing member PaperDollLady
An interesting and insightful account of a Philadelphia-based FBI agent, who advocated and built a team to investigate art theft. Not shy about FBI behind-the-scenes workings, nor personal experiences, the book shows the risk an agent must take in an undercover investigation. The ever-present threat of his cover being blown remains palpable throughout.… (more)
LibraryThing member marshapetry
I loved this book, and the narrator was great (audiobook). I highly recommend it for anyone who likes true crime and perhaps those who like whodunnits (I'm in the true crime camp). This is the story of how Mr. Whittman became a top agent in the art theft area, and also of some of the true stories of how some artworks were finally retrieved thru undercover work. It was interesting, with just enough edge-of-seat theatrics, to read like a thriller novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
Robert Wittman is a career FBI agent, who specialized in art theft, occasionally going undercover, dealing with some dangerous criminals. He not only recovered painting masterpieces but many different historic artifacts, like a Civil War battle flag, Civil War weaponry, a missing copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights, Native American treasures and body armor from a Peruvian King. The list is endless, the items totaling into hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is a smart, fast-paced and suspenseful memoir, filled with many facts regarding artists and their works and the varied histories behind the stolen swag.
… (more)

Language

Page: 0.1774 seconds