Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where To Start: Beginner's Book List

The internet and blogosphere cannot possibly begin to tell you everything you need to know about the illicit antiquities trade, art crime, and other art/cultural heritage issues. This is a humble list of books that I found particularly relevant and not boring at all in my sprightly quest to learn everything. At least, these are the ones I was able to get my hands onto through my county and school libraries. There are, of course, many more, and as soon as I have access to WorldCat again more shall be reviewed for your convenience.

Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology (Duckworth Debates in Archaeology)
by Lord Colin Refrew
The grandfather of all authoritative texts on archaeological context and the destruction inherent in looting. Lord Colin is kind of my hero. Start with this slim read for a highly informative and trustworthy introduction to an issue that too often gets the Indiana Jones treatment.
Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
by Roger Atwood
I actually just finished this a few weeks ago on the recommendation of Cindy Ho at SAFE. This is definitely the most compelling, informative, and ballsy texts I've read so far on this issue. Atwood actually goes to Peru to observe looters looting and selling so he can write about it with the fullest possible authority. I just reread that sentence and I don't think you got the full effect. Ok: for a portion of the book, Atwood spends a few weeks with young Peruvian looters and goes with them to watch them obtain their "merchandise", which they do by pushing metal rods into the earth until they hit bone or pottery or both. They then dig huge holes, pull the gold, textiles, or particularly good pottery off the dead, and leave their trash and cigarette butts among the naked, mummified remains of their ancestors strewn around the site. The same day, they sell their "merchandise", still smelling of tombs, to dealers. Atwood risked arrest and swallowed his own moral indignation so that we wouldn't have to. Dude is ferociously good at his job. For an extra layer of awesome added to your reading experience, listen to the podcast of his interview with SAFE. What a sexy voice.

Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
by Sharon Waxman
This was the first book I ever read about the antiquities trade, the first book that ripped the wool off my eyes about my beloved museums and their corrupt collecting history. It's a well-written and thorough journalistic account with one eye on the history of looting since Napoleon, and the other eye on the current battle for repatriation of antiquities looted decades ago. A great book to get information on the highest profile cases of specific countries' repatriation crusades, such as Greece with the Elgin Marbles and Turkey with the Lydian Hoard.

The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum
by Lawrence Rothfield
This is a great source for a thorough and impassioned account of the looting of the Iraq National Museum and the Bush administration's failure to consider or secure the historical cultural objects of Iraq.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
by Lynn H. Nicholas
This is a very serious and seriously astounding book on the Third Reich's mass looting of Europe, the sacrifices made by the guardians of Europe's art and cultural heritage (did you know the curators in Russia died of starvation and cold in their own museums from protecting their collections?), and the efforts made by the Allied troops to preserve and restore Europe's art and history during and following the war. If you have Netflix, there is also the documentary based on this book in Watch Instantly. Warning: it will make you cry and you will never see Nike of Samothrace the same way again. She will always be even more beautiful than you believed possible.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
by Robert M. Edsel
I'm sorry, but I love these WWII tomes. This is a super work on the the Monuments Man, a small group of American and British soldiers that were assigned by the Allied governments to save and preserve Europe's artistic and cultural treasures with no real budget and no particularly defined orders. I don't usually get all gooey and patriotic about the government, but these dudes are under-appreciated American heroes.
Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World
edited by Noah Charney
ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, published this neat little anthology of various articles on various aspects of art crime. It's a great book to have around to get some reliable statistics and straightforward, factual information on the issues.

P.S. If you buy any of these books, click on the links I provide to do so and your favorite little blogger/poor-as-hell college student will get a cut of the profits from Amazon. Help a sista out, eh?

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