How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures

Book - 2010
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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 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.
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. 
The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners.  The smuggler who brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat.  The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes' descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man.  The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington's hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he'd filched.
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. 
Publisher: New York :, Crown Pub.,, [2010]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2010
ISBN: 9780307461476
Characteristics: viii, 324 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Shiffman, John


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Nov 12, 2018

I listened to the audio book. I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it...except for the wayy too long Gardiner part at the end. So I suggest to read or listen up to that part.

Jan 10, 2012

If you enjoy real accounts and have an interest in the world of art theft this is a good read. It combines the cloak and dagger undercover ops with the paper trail and internal challenges within the FBI for a real account of one man's work dealing with stolen art. Because there are several escapades it's the type of book you can pick up and put down without forgetting who is who and where you were in the storyline. All in all an interesting journey.

BPLNextBestAdults Jul 13, 2011

In the world of North American crime, art theft does not rank high on the list of priorities for the FBI. For one man, however, stopping the theft of cultural artifacts is as important as stopping the sale of drugs or solving violent crime cases. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures is the story of Robert K. Wittman’s FBI career and how he spent years travelling around the globe reclaiming works of art for both museums and personal collections.
Wittman makes a convincing argument for the importance of pursuing the recovery of paintings, sculptures, historic flags, swords, items from archeology sites, and other culturally relevant objects. He notes that their disappearance robs us all of our history, culture, and sense of identity. Wittman details a number of his undercover exploits as he ingratiates himself with members of the criminal underworld to recover works by Rodin, Goya, Rembrandt, and objects such as Geronimo’s eagle feather war bonnet, and a crystal ball originally from Beijing’s Forbidden City. He tracks the growth of the fledgling art crime unit within the FBI and its eventual dissolution, while outlining both its successes as well as its failures.


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