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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.

Review

“Almost every case he recounts has enough intrigue and suspense for a Hollywood screenplay.”--The Washington Post

"Genius... Riveting.... Should be a TV series."--Los Angeles Times

"A rollicking memoir... investigative details dazzle... PRICELESS can read at times, not unpleasantly, as if an art history textbook got mixed up at the printer with a screenplay for THE WIRE."--The New York Times

"Riveting... superbly crafted... absolutely, hands down the best book ever written on art crime."--Associated Press

“I can’t think of a better title for a book than this one, PRICELESS.  Because this non-fiction story is priceless, a spellbinding narrative of an FBI agent’s journey into the crazy murk of what is perhaps the most fascinating criminal activity of all, high-stakes art theft into the millions upon millions.”--Buzz Bissinger, New York Times bestselling author of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and coauthor of SHOOTING STARS

"Entertaining...crime buffs will receive a painless education while they enjoy a lively account of art thieves and the man who pursued them."--Kirkus Reviews
 
"Wittman''s memoir, PRICELESS, is a fast-paced, gripping narrative of stolen national treasures and those who traffic in them. An undercover lawman armed with wit and adrenalin, Wittman exposes the darkest corners of the art world and brings to justice the dangerous criminals who lurk there."--Laney Salisbury, co-author of PROVENANCE: HOW A CON  MAN AND A FORGER REWROTE THE HISTORY OF MODERN ART
 
"In one riveting sequence after another, Robert Wittman reveals the art world’s underbelly as it has never been seen, through the eyes of an undercover agent whose investigative acumen is matched only by his art-history chops. A true page-turner."--Benjamin Wallace, New York Times bestseller author of THE BILLIONAIRE’S VINEGAR
 
“With suspense, intrigue, and candor, FBI agent Robert Wittman takes us inside the secret world of stolen art as he goes undercover to solve some of the most notorious art thefts of our time.”—Ronald Kessler, New York Times bestselling author of THE BUREAU and IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE
 
“PRICELESS is a gem of a story, part James Bond, part art history.  If Robert Wittman didn’t already exist, Dan Brown would have made him up.”--George Anastasia, New York Times bestselling author BLOOD AND HONOR, THE LAST GANGSTER and THE SUMMER WIND
 
"More realistic than THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, more entertaining than CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.  It''s hard to believe one undercover FBI Agent rescued so many cultural and national treasures......but it''s all true.”--Jack Garcia, former FBI undercover agent and New York Times bestselling author of MAKING JACK FALCONE
 
PRICELESS is a rare and riveting journey into the little-understood world of art crime.  A brilliant professional who sees both the big picture and all of its nuances, Wittman fascinates with tales of his daring adventures as an FBI undercover agent.  Demonstrating candor, humor, integrity, and sensitivity, Wittman strips away the myths, bares the truth, and tells it like it is.  He and PRICELESS are both precisely that--priceless!”--Andrea Kane, New York Times bestselling author of DRAWN IN BLOOD

About the Author

ROBERT K. WITTMAN spent twenty years as an FBI special agent. He created and was senior investigator for the bureau’s Art Crime Team. Today, he is president of the international art security firm Robert Wittman Inc.
 
JOHN SHIFFMAN is an investigative reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has won numerous writing awards and was a 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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4.4 out of 54.4 out of 5
448 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Steffan Piper
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Coward Has No Scar ...
Reviewed in the United States on July 13, 2018
Robert Wittman, with aide of John Shiffman, weaves a very detailed memoir that is captivating and incredibly informative. This is a must read for anyone interested the FBI''s development and interest in recovering stolen art over the decades. Often times people... See more
Robert Wittman, with aide of John Shiffman, weaves a very detailed memoir that is captivating and incredibly informative. This is a must read for anyone interested the FBI''s development and interest in recovering stolen art over the decades.

Often times people take jobs in the public sector, spend a lifetime providing service and then retire. Everyone can say they left a mark in their own field and implemented changes that made the job for the next person more fluid, simpler or more efficient, but not everyone can say what Wittman has done. Robert Wittman through good fortune and solid investigative work and ''proper salesmanship'' in the field slowly built a career not only for himself but a place for others to hopefully follow.

Bob Wittman, AKA Bob Clay, undercover Art Dealer for an ''unnamed client'' with a hefty checkbook, spent twenty years chasing down leads, setting up meetings in out-of-the-way darkened places, stings and apprehending a long list of people who ventured into Art Crime. Some were dangerous, others were probably more vacuous and obnoxious than dangerous, but still trouble all the same.

The best part of the story that unfolds is learning that at one point the FBI gave Bob the leeway needed to see these cases through, recapture lost art and artifacts and take the lead with other Agents to generate success recovering paintings, lost swords, stolen battleflags and other antiquities. The worst part is learning by the end of the book that, like with all bureaucracies who become obsessed with core issues, the FBI supposedly lost interest in drafting a line item budget in their annual reserve policies for Bob''s Art Crime Department. Perhaps if more money had been spent on the West Coast, Marion True would''ve been shut down years prior over at the Getty Center in Los Angeles … but that''s another story.

In reading the reviews, yes, I always do … I can see that Bob is unfairly taking a lot of flak for a portion of his writing style. Some readers come away a little turned off by what appears to be an oversized ego, but the truth is that when you''re the first person to do something, anything you say is likely to come off that way. While Bob wasn''t necessarily the first person to come along and do what he did with the FBI, he was likely the first to make a distinguished career out of it, go undercover and build an interest with FBI so they would create entire Departments which then made it able to frame the FBI in a favourable light for the recoveries. Bob Wittman does write a lot of “I did this” and “I did that” sentences, but having to protect other agents parts in cases is a part of it and the material should be read with such consideration.

Some people never see the value in history or in art, but will quickly sign the permission slip to let their kids visit a museum for a field trip outing with their elementary school. Common sense can skip a generation (sometimes two) and that''s okay. A good number of people understand the significance of what art and antiquities hold, and what it means about our own past.

Bob Wittman''s narrative of his case files make for good reading, thoughtful consideration and a warning to ne''er-do-wells who think ripping priceless art off the walls of sleepy half-forgotten museums can be profitable. Nine times out of ten you''re likely going to be reselling the works to an undercover agent. So, the real lesson is clear – unless you''re going to hang the stuff in your own two story home to look at and tell your neighbors it''s a fake, decade after decade – don''t even think about it.

Five Stars. Many thanks to the author for a lifetime of dedicated service as well.
8 people found this helpful
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Karen A. Wyle
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Engrossing and surprisingly educational account of a fascinating career
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2021
I''m rounding up. I had low expectations for this book, which is the best way to start a good book. I am not a huge fan of the FBI, and was therefore relieved to discover, almost immediately, that Mr. Wittman is less than a thorough fan of that... See more
I''m rounding up.

I had low expectations for this book, which is the best way to start a good book.

I am not a huge fan of the FBI, and was therefore relieved to discover, almost immediately, that Mr. Wittman is less than a thorough fan of that organization -- particularly its bureaucratic functioning, turf wars, and frequent view of art crime as low priority. I sympathized with and admired Wittman''s frustrations and his ability to get things done in spite of these obstacles -- with the caveat that I did not always applaud his attitude toward legal requirements.

This book includes a substantial amount of art history and art education. It would have been substantially less interesting without these passages, though some true-crime addicts (I am not one) might consider them tangents. Wittman''s passion for art and for recovering lost cultural treasures (art and other artifacts) comes through clearly, and adds to the suspense inherent in step-by-step accounts of operations to recover these works. (Not all the operations described were ultimately successful. And I''m not telling how often they were or weren''t. Read the book to find out!)

There are occasional clumsy transitions, but fewer than in most as-told-to books and other collaborations between a professional writer and someone who isn''t.
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Ann Sarnco
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
More than just a recount of art crimes
Reviewed in the United States on May 6, 2018
I liked this book for several reasons. 1) the authors didn''t just write about the theft of paintings, but also of artifacts such as an American Indian headress and historically important Civil War relics. 2) not only did they write about the actual crime, but gave... See more
I liked this book for several reasons.
1) the authors didn''t just write about the theft of paintings, but also of artifacts such as an American Indian headress and historically important Civil War relics.
2) not only did they write about the actual crime, but gave important backstory information about each theft and the players involved.
3) while Wittman created, promoted and worked as the FBI''s art theft division lead, he relates the struggles to keep it vital and working through his tenure touching on the evolution of the bureaucratic mess it has become.
4) the Gardner theft case is the underlying theft case in the story, and the authors provide updates on the years of repeated attempts to locate the paintings to no avail.
I encourage anyone interested in reading about art crime to give this book a read.
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ITS GREAT
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great and informative read
Reviewed in the United States on September 16, 2020
I really liked Robert Wittman and John Shiffman''s account of Bob''s life as FBI agent dealing in stolen art because it is down-to-earth, easy read and, for me, a page turner. One can only admire Bob''s dedication and frustration at how the bureaucracy of the FBI often... See more
I really liked Robert Wittman and John Shiffman''s account of Bob''s life as FBI agent dealing in stolen art because it is down-to-earth, easy read and, for me, a page turner. One can only admire Bob''s dedication and frustration at how the bureaucracy of the FBI often stopped him from doing his job, especially in regaining the paintings stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. I used to live in Boston, visited the museum often, and, after looking up the stolen paintings on the internet, remembered viewing them. What a shame that he came so close to recovering such priceless art.
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fiona zakka
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very interesting memoirs to read
Reviewed in the United States on December 16, 2018
I enjoyed reading this account of how an FBI agent in Art Crimes worked cases. As the author tells us at the end of the book, of course the memoir is just that, not a fully detailed account of what actually happened and I guess it couldn’t be. But I would have liked this... See more
I enjoyed reading this account of how an FBI agent in Art Crimes worked cases. As the author tells us at the end of the book, of course the memoir is just that, not a fully detailed account of what actually happened and I guess it couldn’t be. But I would have liked this book even if it was pure fiction.
The cases are all interesting and you get a lot of factoids on how countries all over the world deal with art theft and their heritage. I was quite amazed to read that many countries have a lax attitude towards art theft and very limited punishment penalties for items that speak about our human heritage.
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Capricorn One
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Both educational and a compelling read on Fine Art and the associated black market in stolen paintings
Reviewed in the United States on April 24, 2018
In the initial part of the book, I thought it was merely a vanity piece in which the author touts himself above the storyline. However, that soon evolves into a very well-written description of his successful efforts, through many depictions of real-life Art theft events,... See more
In the initial part of the book, I thought it was merely a vanity piece in which the author touts himself above the storyline. However, that soon evolves into a very well-written description of his successful efforts, through many depictions of real-life Art theft events, to both enlighten the reader on not only the world of fine art but also the immense black market in stolen art works. It is autobiographical, and while he does tout his own talents, the old cliche that "it ain''t bragging if you can do it" applies. He was very good at his craft. A very readable book and a page turner, I enjoyed the read and learned a lot about the fine art world.
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Chicago Burbs
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Story would make a good TV show
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2019
Follow an FBI agent all over the world as he Investigates museum robberies and recovers precious works of art by Picasso, Vermeer, VanGogh, etc. Wittman spent 20 years at it and retired still subject to threats from the bad guys he imprisoned. There’s lots... See more
Follow an FBI agent all over the world as he Investigates museum robberies
and recovers precious works of art by Picasso, Vermeer, VanGogh, etc.
Wittman spent 20 years at it and retired still subject to threats from the
bad guys he imprisoned. There’s lots of humor to be enjoyed of life
undercover as a corrupt art dealer with filthy rich clients, finding
himself suckered into the robbers’ crazy schemes to get their money.
This is a fast and very enjoyable read,
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Texas Dynamo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Blend of Art History and True Crime Story
Reviewed in the United States on May 4, 2016
I don''t normally write reviews, but this book is worth a special mention. I like learning new information in an entertaining way. This book fulfills that need. We learn about the history of the artifacts that Mr. Wittman went undercover to try to recover, along with the... See more
I don''t normally write reviews, but this book is worth a special mention. I like learning new information in an entertaining way. This book fulfills that need. We learn about the history of the artifacts that Mr. Wittman went undercover to try to recover, along with the techniques necessary to catch the bad guys. The story takes us to exotic locales and we meet fascinating characters along the way.
I think it would enhance the book if it were illustrated. It would be easy to add pictures of the stolen items that Mr. Wittman tried to recover.
If you enjoy art history or true crime stories, I recommend that you read this book!
15 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

R Helen
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great fun!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 7, 2014
Every so often I just want to read a book for fun. I don''t like fiction, and to be honest, life can be a lot more interesting than fiction. I think Wittman''s book hits the mark on both points. It is just a great, easy read. Full of interesting characters, priceless art, and...See more
Every so often I just want to read a book for fun. I don''t like fiction, and to be honest, life can be a lot more interesting than fiction. I think Wittman''s book hits the mark on both points. It is just a great, easy read. Full of interesting characters, priceless art, and dangerous undercover missions. I think it took me only a few hours to read the whole book, but I learned a lot and had fun. I was really in suspense toward the end of the book. If you never had an interest in art before, you will after reading this book. I would definitely recommend!
6 people found this helpful
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lcw
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Onesided.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 18, 2017
This book started well then became repetitive and mainly about Indiginous Indian objects rather than Art Masterpieces. This was not for me.
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S. O. Butler
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Four Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 12, 2014
interesting with some insight into the factual workings of the FBI, CIA, etc
One person found this helpful
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Charly
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Four Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 16, 2016
Interesting read - the world of stolen art can be for me fascinating.
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Mavis
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Four Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 2, 2014
Fascinating book.
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lowest Priceless: How I Went Undercover online to Rescue the World's Stolen popular Treasures outlet sale

lowest Priceless: How I Went Undercover online to Rescue the World's Stolen popular Treasures outlet sale

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