Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey

Book description:
The Island of Lost Maps tells the story of a curious crime spree: the theft of scores of valuable centuries-old maps from some of the most prominent research libraries in the United States and Canada. The perpetrator was Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr., an enigmatic antiques dealer from South Florida, whose cross-country slash-and-dash operation had gone virtually undetected until he was caught in 1995–and was unmasked as the most prolific American map thief in history. As Miles Harvey unravels the mystery of Bland’s life, he maps out the world of cartography and cartographic crime, weaving together a fascinating story of exploration, craftsmanship, villainy, and the lure of the unknown.

It is hard to know what to say about this book which rather defies description. It purports to be about the prolifigate map thief Gilbert Bland, but really Bland's crimes are just the jumping off point for a book about maps, those who made them, and those who covet them. I thought this book would be more similar to The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, but because Bland remained but a shadowy presence, the feel of the two books is completely different. That said, I still found myself pulled into this book and unable to put it down. I can't really explain why I enjoyed it so much, I just did, to the tune of five stars. If you love maps then you are likely to love this book, but if you are looking for a true crime caper, this might not be your cup of tea.

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