Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding


Maps. Who wants to read about maps? How about stolen maps? Well, more interesting, but I'm thinking you're still wondering how exciting that can be. Well, how about maps being stolen from libraries by a very well-respected, rare map dealer who made millions from them? Now, I may have piqued your interest a bit. I went through that very same brain process when I learned about The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, but once I started reading, I found it hard to put down.

Maps, particularly old, rare, maps are often beautiful works of art in addition to a means to identifying landmarks, roads, islands, continents, and states. It's often fascinating to look at early maps of the United States to see just how inaccurate they were and how the names of things have changed or remained the same over the decades. One doesn't really think of maps as a way to make millions of dollars, but the world of rare map collecting involves a small amount of people all vying for the same, finite number of maps available in the world. It's often heated, and disreputable dealers can cause a great amount of havoc in the world of antiquities dealing.

E. Forbes Smiley III, who spent his life as a very well respected rare  map dealer, spent years doubling as a map thief until he was finally arrested. Don't scorn those librarians at Yale University who suspected he had been stealing things.  They finally caught him tearing maps out of books in 2005 and immediately got the authorities involved. Smiley has confessed to stealing over 90 maps valued at over $3 million total, and there are many other maps that he is suspected of stealing. What would lead someone to become disloyal to the very collections that he has spent his life building up? To find out, read The Map Thief, and don't get any ideas about visiting your closest map archive. The librarians are watching you.

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