In theory I should have loved this book. Bartlett mixes two of my favorite things (a good crime story and a love of books) and it is even a true story! And, I do think that it was a (slightly) interesting read and that Bartlett had three valid points. Unfortunately, Bartlett is a journalist and these three points would have been much better served had they been housed in a longish magazine article, rather than a 250 page book. Honestly, the details of the story were so repetitive and Bartlett drums her three points into the reader's head so many times (often using the same language and even upon occasion repeating the sentence within the same paragraph) that I think if the fat were culled, this very interesting story would have only required about 50 pages. That said, I shall enumerate her points and then quietly end this review before I risk unnecessary repetition.
1. Bartlett extolls on the virtues of printed book. The first time she does this (page 21) she is talking about her own fond memories of her childhood books. While reading this, I found it to be ironic that I was holding an ebook. Later (page 217) she argues that "physical artifacts carry memory and meaning, and this is as true of important historical texts as it is of cherished childhood books." I have heard this argument from others (especially when I extoll the virtues of my kindle), but I am not sentimental enough to feel it. My love of books is the closest thing to a religion that I have (my kids know that nothing angers me more than for them to pretend to have read a book; I consider that among the highest forms of blasphemy; if you don't want to read something, then don't but for godsake at least give the author the respect to actual read it or not), but my love is for the printed word and not the printed volume. I, personally, do not feel that ebooks are of any less value than paper versions. However, I get that there are collectors (of all types of various objects) and that these people will praise their beloved object to no end.
2. She explains the psychology of Gilkey as similar to other collectors; she describes the hunger and passion that all collectors feel and argues that Gilkey is just slightly different. She presents an interesting case as to why obsessive people might be happier than others: "Such single-minded wanting is a lot like never-satisfied lust, a dream that won't die, and working toward achieving it can give tremendous pleasure." This sounds a lot like the repetitive cycle of the addict (and is why I put this onto my addiction shelf). Certain the high is worth so much that people are often willing to risk (and lose all) to achieve those moments of pleasure. Her description of (and repeated amazement at) his pride in his theft: "He went on to describe his fraudulent purchases as though they were larks, why-the-hell-not pranks, but the ease with which he pulled them off stuck with him." reminded me of something I read before that people with gambling problems (as opposed to occasional gamblers) are more likely to have had a big win their first time gambling. It is the ease of winning that gives them the false sense that they are likely to continue to win (or in Gilkey's case likely to get away with the crime).
3. The other difference between Gilkey and "normal" collectors is that he rationalizes his theft as not wrong. At one point she wonders "perhaps he was mentally ill. He was aware that stealing books was illegal, and yet he continued to steal them, because he did not equate illegal with wrong. Was this a permanent state of mind, or could he change?" and later she argues that his interpretation of Nietzsche's "idea that if a law or system is unjust, to break it down, to go against it is not wrong." is used to justify his theft because "the unfair system that Gilkey had in mind was one under which he cannot afford what he wants while others can." She maintains that Gilkey's desire to be seen as erudite (this word was used way too much in the book) and wealthy was compelling enough that given his collecting obsession (addiction) he was able to justify his actions and continue to engage in the behavior.
Overall it was an interesting story, but ultimately just unnecessarily long.