Book Review: 'The Art Thief' is an astonishing story that capitalizes on our love of true crime

What is it about stories of transgression that keep us wanting more of them

ByKRYSTA FAURIA Associated Press
June 26, 2023, 10:18 AM

“The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession” by Michael Finkel (Alfred A. Knopf)

What is it about stories of transgression that keep us wanting more of them? Tales of heists, con artists and even murders permeate all corners of society, from Dostoevsky to “Tiger King.”

It is this insatiable thirst for accounts of crime – and if based on real events, all the better – that journalist Michael Finkel exploits in “The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime and a Dangerous Obsession.”

It recounts the astonishing saga of Stéphane Breitwieser, the notorious art thief who stole hundreds of pieces of art between 1994 and 2001, mostly from museums throughout Europe – a collection which was estimated to be worth around $2 billion.

The level of detail Finkel is able to provide, thanks to extensive reporting and hours of interviews with Breitwieser himself, is uncomfortably gripping, as if the reader is watching these events unfold and working as an accomplice to the French robber’s crimes.

“The Art Thief” is the kind of book that is worth finishing if its subject matter gets one’s attention in the first place, given that the story only gets more scandalous and appalling as it progresses.

Given how much and how often he stole, it is inevitable that recounting so many details of these heists would dull one’s senses to each otherwise astonishing feat. Though it can sometimes feel like Finkel is belaboring his point, perhaps that is the author’s intention, a way of underscoring the extent of both Breitwieser’s skill and addiction.

Although the definition of a page-turner, this book will also likely force the reader to consider why details of this kind are so exhilarating to us in the first place.