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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Bartlett, Allison Hoover: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

  Amazon  

4 stars

Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a quick, readable look at the world of book collection. She dips into the history of bibliomania and provides vignettes of other characters, but mostly the book is an account of two men and the author's experiences in getting to know them. Ken Sanders is the owner of a rare book store in Salt Lake City who served for six years as the security chair of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association. He embraced that role enthusiastically, improved methods for alerting members of the organization to recent thefts during his tenure, and doggedly pursued one particular repeat offender. John Charles Gilkey, like other bibliomaniacs, is obsessed with adding to his collection of rare books, but in his case the books have tended to come free of charge, courtesy of the sorry souls who were unlucky enough to have once handed over their credit cards to Gilkey when he worked at Saks Fifth Avenue. Gilkey methodically collected their numbers and identities and used the cards, months later, to fund hotel stays and book-buying junkets.

Bartlett spent a lot of time interviewing both men, and while neither quite comes alive on the page, Gilkey emerges as an interestingly flawed human being, possessed of a curiously selective sense of morality. For him, stealing rare books is illegal, perhaps, but hardly immoral, a means of evening the score against an unfair world that has not made him rich enough to own priceless books without stealing them. His conscience about his misdeeds is clear. Bartlett spends some time with Gilkey's mother and sister as well--more exploration of this dysfunctional family would have made for a  more interesting book. Gilkey's mother, at least, seems to be thoroughly in denial about her son, whom she praises for his outstanding posture.

I don't really get the allure of collecting myself--books or anything else. Like the author, I understand that books can carry secondary meanings as physical objects: a book may be loved because of its place in your or someone else's history. But I don't relate to books in the same way that collectors apparently do, desiring to possess particular copies, and so I approach this story as something of an outsider. Bartlett's book is not a hard-hitting investigative piece by any means, and it probably won't offer anything new to readers familiar with book-collecting from their own experience or from other treatments of the subject. But for the non-specialist it's a good light introduction to the topic and to the lives of the two very different men whom the author profiles.

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