ABC-CLIO

The Book Thief

The True Crimes of Daniel Spiegelman

by Travis McDade

 

Vividly recounts the crimes and trial of Daniel Spiegelman, an expert rare manuscript thief and international fraud.

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Cover image for The Book Thief

October 2006

Praeger

Pages 200
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Crime/General
  • Hardcover

    978-0-275-99331-3

    $55.00

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  • eBook

    978-0-313-08779-0

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  • International Pricing

    Hardcover: £43.00/46,00€/A$71.00

In the spring of 1994, Daniel Spiegelman shinnied up an abandoned book lift in Columbia University's Butler Library, dismantled a wall, stole books, reassembled the wall, and snuck back down the shaft. Over a three-month period he did this more than a dozen times. He eventually escaped to Europe with roughly $1.8 million in rare books, letters and manuscripts. When he was caught in the Netherlands, he tried to avoid extradition to the U.S. by telling the Dutch authorities he was a financier of the Oklahoma City bombing—knowing they wouldn't extradite someone facing the death penalty. Eventually, the FBI got him back to New York, where he finally stood trial for his crimes. Including a retelling of the crimes, dialogue from the court transcripts, and explanations of the legal consequences and intricacies, McDade recounts all the sordid elements of this true crime caper in vivid detail.

In the spring of 1994, Daniel Spiegelman shinnied up an abandoned book lift in Columbia University's Butler Library, dismantled a wall, stole books, reassembled the wall, and snuck back down the shaft. Over a three-month period he did this more than a dozen times. He eventually escaped to Europe with roughly $1.8 million in rare books, letters and manuscripts. When he was caught in the Netherlands, he tried to avoid extradition to the U.S. by telling the Dutch authorities he was a financier of the Oklahoma City bombing— knowing they wouldn't extradite someone facing the death penalty. Eventually, the FBI got him back to New York, where he finally stood trial for his crimes.

Four years, four attorneys, one determined librarian, numerous court appearances, and one guilty plea after the initial crime took place, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York meted out a sentence that ran counter to the plea agreement, nearly doubling the ordinary sentence for a crime of that magnitude. In so doing, he created a new justification for departure from Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Basing his decision on the potential harm inflicted on society as a whole by the theft of rare and unique elements of our cultural heritage, Judge Kaplan redefined the value of such rare items and justified his sentencing by determining the value to be beyond the monetary realm. McDade recounts all the sordid elements of this true-crime caper in vivid detail, presenting readers with a retelling of the crimes, dialogue from the court transcripts, and explanations of the legal consequences and intricacies. In addition to the significant, overall legal themes, The Book Thief describes two prison escape attempts, one suicide attempt, a jailed defense lawyer, and the aftermath of this unique and interesting case.

Reviews/Endorsements

Reviews

"This non-fictional account of DS' crime, his capture, his trial, his sentencing, escape, re-capture, re-sentencing makes for some very interesting reading. The author seems to wander far afield, at times, leaving the reader initially wondering what possible link the information has with the primary subject.but, in every case, the relevance is revealed.and the whole makes for a very good story. Recommended reading. some of the testimony by Jean Ashton (of Columbia's RBML), regarding the value of stolen items (and the damage caused), is extremely interesting to those involved in the rare book/manuscript world."RMABA

"As a librarian/lawyer, McDade is uniquely qualified to relate the saga of a larcenous bibliophile who stole some $18 million of rare books and letters from Columbia U.'s library in the spring of 1994. Drawing on interviews with people involved in the story, but purposely excluding Spiegelman, he chronicles not only the events but also the court's groundbreaking application of federal sentencing guidelines to rare and unique elements of our cultural heritage. (They really threw the book at him!)"Reference & Research Book News

"McDades book is the first book-length account of a book thief. A librarian and a lawyer, McDade focuses on rare book thefts and the legal trials that follow. What holds McDades attention in the Spiegelman case is Judge Kaplans unique, groundbreaking sentencing. The Book Thief reads like a thriller with its suspenseful, gripping narrative of how Spiegelman planned and executed the theft. Columbias Butler library is equipped with high tech security systems, and yet Spiegelman broke in. Like all old libraries, McDade tells us, Columbias Butler also had one small security flaw. And one flaw was enough. Im not going to say what it was or mention anything more about how Spiegelman did it. Its a fascinating tale, and one that you should discover for yourself in the book....[t]he most intriguing, compelling, satisfying book about books published in a long, long time."The Hindu

"[F]or those concerned with the protection of our cultural heritage from people like Spiegelman, McDade has written a book well worth reading."PhiloBiblos (blog)

Endorsements

"The Book Thief is a highly entertaining and thought provoking study into the mind of a rare book thief. It works nicely on several levels: an exciting true crime potboiler, a gripping courtroom drama, and a fascinating peek into the rarefied air of the world of rare books and manuscripts. It's a unique story that pits a slippery thief against a scholarly rare books librarian. The resolution of this war of wits will surprise you."—Will Manley, Library Columnist, Booklist and American Libraries

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