“The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” is a true story about a field which some might consider a dull subject - collectors of rare books. However, Bartlett turns this seemingly prosaic tale into a suspenseful mystery surrounding a book thief who eludes capture until a rare bookseller becomes so incensed that he devotes several years in an attempt to put this man behind bars.

John Charles Gilkey believed that his possession of rare books gave him a superior status in the eyes of others. This he craved as much as owning the books, no matter what method he used to get them. While working at Saks 5th Avenue in San Francisco as a temporary Christmas season employee, Gilkey obtained hundreds of credit card numbers which he used illegally to purchase rare books. By phoning in the order and stating that a third party would pick it up, he avoided the necessity of producing the actual credit card. It would take weeks before the unsuspecting victim saw the unusual charge on his credit card bill.


Credit CardCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                           Credit Cards

Ken Sanders, a rare book dealer who was also the security chairman of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, picked up Gilkey’s trail as he visited famous book fairs throughout the country, such as the famous California International Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco. The elusive Gilkey managed to elude capture through a series of ruses, but did land in jail for short periods which interrupted his career just temporarily.

Author Allison Hoover Bartlett became aware of both of these men while doing research on rare books and became somewhat obsessed herself as she realized the magnitude of the problem faced by rare booksellers who have a surprisingly low profit margin in their business.


Books on a ShelfCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                      Books on a Shelf

Bartlett interviewed Gilkey while he was doing time in prison during one of his short stays. He was proud to tell his story and did not sense that what he did was stealing. He loved the free hotel rooms and meals he was able to access in his hops around the country to book fairs, stores and libraries. He loved the sense of being upper class and rubbing shoulders with other book dealers who would spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to feed their bibliomania. Bartlett was also able to contact Ken Sanders who filled her in on stories about rare book dealers and their hesitancy to report thefts lest they achieve a reputation for carelessness.

Allison Hoover Bartlett has forged an intriguing tale of an otherwise mundane topic, creating a page-turner which is both educational and filled with suspense.