The Book Burglars’ Pin-Up Boy
by Fiona Crawford - May 22nd, 2010
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and never more so than this week’s news that former American president and all-round good guy George Washington was also—yes, indeedy—a book burglar. I’m referring, of course, to the fact that a library book he borrowed in 1789 was returned this week, a tardy 221 years after he’d signed it out.
Famous for being America’s first president and widely regarded as a fine, upstanding, and popular citizen (he remains the only president to have received 100% of the votes), Washington is the last guy you’d expect to be slack with his book returns. Which is why it’s all the most schadenfreude-ly gleeful for me, a regularly and unfairly accused book burglar who now has you-couldn’t-have-scripted-it-better ammunition that even the best of us are book thieves.
Sure, you could argue that not returning a book is different from actual, premeditated theft. And you could wonder, as I did, whether the reason that he didn’t return it was excusable because of some awful incident—say, for example, he died. But I can attest to the fact that not only did death not prevent Washington from returning the book, but that he lived some 10 years beyond its due date.
Even better, interest and inflation mean that the overdue fines due for the book are in the vicinity of a cool $US300,000, calculations of which undoubtedly made the executors of his estate break into a cold sweat. But Washington and his estate have apparently been absolved of all financial responsibility and the book in question was presented to the library in what was arguably a burglars-always-prosper little ceremony.
So what was this book that Washington so badly seemed to want to keep? Emer de Vattel’s The Law of Nations, which was an, er, undoubtedly scintillating read. Clearly it’s not a book I, you, or anyone we know would ever want to ‘borrow’, but the man lived in the 1700s and airport fiction hadn’t yet been invented.
No matter. As far as I’m concerned Washington is not only the best thing that’s ever happened to book burglars, he’s our pin-up boy.
I mean, if it’s ok for the ‘father’ of America, I’m pretty sure it’s ok for me.