The Art of the Steal by Christopher Mason

Subtitled “Inside the Sotheby’s-Christie’s Auction House Scandal”, Mason’s book introduced me an industry I knew very little about and a scandal I had never heard of. Introducing readers to multimillionaire tycoon Alfred Taubman, Dede Brooks (the CEO of Sotheby’s and the first woman to ever hold the position) and Christopher Davidge (the British CEO of Christie’s) as well as a whole host of other characters, Mason lays out how the world’s most famous auction houses cheated their clients out of millions with a price-fixing scheme.

Except I’m still not sure how exactly these two auction houses went about it; something about sliding commission scales not up for negotiation. It was clear to me from Mason’s book that the two CEOs were in collusion illegally. I just wasn’t sure exactly how the scheme was being carried out. It might had helped if I had noticed the charts at the back of the book at the beginning but, ultimately, there needed to be a stronger and clearer explanation of how commissions and pricing and percentages were defrauding buyers and sellers.

The severity of antitrust legislation in the United States is something I remember being drilled into my head in every U.S. history course I took in junior high and high school. Certainly these laws have been covered in my college economics courses! So I thought it was interested that Chairmen and Chief Executive Officers of major, multinational corporations would have (or claim to have) no knowledge of these laws. That just seems so idiotic!

I said in this past Sunday Salon that I was waiting for the scandal to erupt and growing bored with the detailed coverage of the history of the two auction houses, their CEOs/Chairmen, and major employees. Having finished the book, I can tell you that the later is actually the better parts. The novel begins to lose its momentum by the time prosecution begins. The flip side of this, though, is that the reader will learn more than they ever wanted to know about the life and times of Taubman, Brooks, and Davidge among others.

Book Mentioned:

  • Mason, Christopher. The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby’s-Christie’s Auction House Scandal. New York: Berkley Books, 2004. Print. 406 pgs. ISBN: 0425202410. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Berkley Books. Retrieved: September 5, 2011.
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