What the subtitle calls 'the race to return a literary inheritance' is surely a misnomer, given the excruciatingly slow and erratic nature of the process. The Book Thieves can be similarly plodding as it meanders idiosyncratically through the byways of biography and cultural history. But Rydell's passion for the subject is undeniable. Serving as a courier, he manages to convey the emotional power of returning even a single book to a grateful descendant who has lost so much else.
While the research was ridiculous, the grimly efficient engine of annihilation wrecked havoc across the world. That havoc has been described and analyzed by numerous historians before, and Rydell adds little to their contributions ... The Book Thieves does have its own story to tell, but it would have been more effectively told, say, in a long magazine article than in a book -length project. Still, there are moving moments in The Book Thieves, as the 'people of the Book' are hunted down along with their venerated objects of study.
This often dense account is not easy sledding. The translation frequently doesn’t extend to long German names for places, entities, or currency. The litany of books, libraries, and human beings that were ravished is numbing, while the author concedes repeatedly that the chances of finding rightful owners 75 years after the crime are increasingly small ... Quibbles aside, this is a most valuable book.