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The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,856 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
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 unt ...more
Paperback, 404 pages
Published September 4th 2001 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Lori
May 09, 2016 Lori rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, 2011, true-crime
Nothing ruins a good book more than an author confusing his quest to find the story with "the story."

This book is best when Harvey is relating actual events. He includes several true stories about map thefts or about cartographers that I found interesting because 1. their effect on historical events is obvious, and 2. the stories are generally unknown to the average reader. There are some great stories in the first half of this book.

But there is far too much philosophizing in this book, especial
...more
daniela
Oct 20, 2007 daniela rated it it was amazing
I bought the book for a few reasons:
- I liked the cover.
- I like Islands.
- I like maps.
- I like some true stories.
- It seemed totally random.

Highly recommended because even if you like none of the above reasons, you will still love reading it. Yay cartography!

Joe
Feb 11, 2011 Joe rated it liked it
As a cartomaniac, a librarian, and a history lover myself, this book seemed to be just the ticket for me. I loved the digressions into the science of maps, notable historic maps, mapmakers, historic map thieves, explorers, map collectors and the map trade.
However, I found the story of the map thief to be about as bland as the thief's own name. In fact, the author takes pains to illustrate that thief is a personification of his own name. His is a story not worthy of telling, except as a caution
...more
Peter Macinnis
Nov 18, 2013 Peter Macinnis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: librarians, scholars, booklovers
Shelves: science, literature
In June 2002, I arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the courteous natives felt impelled to tell me that it was pronounced Wooster -- as though it would be anything else! (We Australians know and use the English pronunciation of such places.)

There I entered the Goddard Library to get my paws on Robert Goddard's papers, and I was given firm instructions as to how I would sit, in relation to the librarian's desk. So I said brightly "You've read 'The Island of Lost Maps', haven't you?"

The lib
...more
Leslie
Aug 15, 2011 Leslie rated it it was ok
I can’t believe I finally finished reading this book! I never thought I’d make it! Even Jake said he felt relieved when I was finally done. So I suppose it’s not hard to guess that I thought this book was pretty boring and way longer than it needed to be. I would repeatedly find myself at the bottom of a paragraph and realize I had no clue what I had just read. Or I would suddenly come to with a jolt and a major crick in my neck. Oy!

The author took what was a mildly interesting case (a man who s
...more
Mitch
Jun 10, 2012 Mitch rated it liked it
Shelves: biographical
I suppose I was warned. After all, it says right in the title that this is a true STORY.

Our intrepid journalist started out to track down information so he could write an article about some faceless guy who was caught making off with valuable old maps he'd razored free from rare books housed in a special university reading room.

Over time, said intrepid journalist becomes obsessed just shy of stalking, and he amasses enough info. to write a 350 page book about the thief- all without the benefit o
...more
Gerry
May 24, 2012 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Map stealing has gone on from time immemorial; Christopher Columbus discovered America with the help of maps and charts stolen from the Portuguese and Sir Francis Drake went to the East Indies using captured Spanish maps. So what is new when Gilbert Bland decides that he has a new career as a map thief?

Well, Bland does not steal them from his enemies, he steals them from public institutions ... and for profit! It is quite amazing to think that he got away with secreting large sized maps on his p
...more
JulieK
Apr 23, 2008 JulieK rated it liked it
Shelves: archives-museums
This is the story of Gilbert Bland, who was arrested after stealing historic maps from libraries all over North America. The author talks about how the popularity of eBay and the Antiques Roadshow is putting archival collections in more danger, as interest in -- and prices for -- old documents, maps, books, and so on continue to rise. He also claims that some libraries refused to admit they had anything stolen, presumably so as not to frighten off potential donors. However, this meant that they ...more
Lucy
"For him that steals, or borrows and returns not, a book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw at his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not. And when at last he goes to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever."
Library of the San Pedro M
...more
Roberta
Mar 21, 2014 Roberta rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The book has a very attractive dust jacket.

The sub-title of the book indicates that it is about "cartographic crime" presumably those thefts committed by Gilbert Bland. But the book was all over the place. There are a lot of anecdotes about explorers, old maps, map-collecting and map collectors. Some of these were related to the supposed subject and some weren't. At one point the author sees the name El Dorado on a map and just decides to drive 100 miles out of his way to see it. That would hav
...more
Alleycatfan
May 05, 2009 Alleycatfan rated it really liked it
I started this book last night at about 9 p.m. I could not put it down until I was unable to keep my eyes open any longer at about 3:30 a.m. In other words it's great! I'm on page 175 and can't wait to finish up work so I can finish it. It's like a mystery/spy novel that is true a story. Any one who likes maps, legends, old books or just a well written non-fiction book will really enjoy this. It's along the lines of The Devil in the White City. Did I say I am loving it?

Well I finished the next
...more
Debra Hale-Shelton
Oct 02, 2007 Debra Hale-Shelton rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: travel-writing and mystery fans
I read this book while working for the AP in Chicago in 2000. I learned that the first-time novelist, Miles Harvey, lived in Chicago and set out to interview him in one of my own favorite places in the city -- the venerable Newberry Library, where he did much of his research for this non-fiction work. Along the way, I got to see and touch a map from the 1500s. So what? It turns out these old maps are quite valuable, and the prolific map thief whom Harvey writes about realized that and worked qui ...more
Stephen Parrish
Reading the reviews, I get the impression everyone's expectations were different when they picked the book up.

I gave it five stars. The book is not only exquisitely written, it met my expectations. Here's why: I'm a professional cartographer. I know that in order to tell the story of an infamous map thief you have to tell the story of map collecting. And map history. And, yes, map production. You have to provide contexts, otherwise you're just relating the tale of a weirdo who slices dusty piece
...more
Corey
Apr 17, 2007 Corey rated it really liked it
Toted as the story of a cartographic criminal, Miles Harvey takes his time telling that story while interspersing the tale with mildly related essays on travel, books, people obsessed with their particular specialty and, as always, a love of antique maps. Since so little is known about the actual cartographic criminal, Harvey's travels across America to get ever-closer to the elusive thief provide just as interesting a narrative as if he were telling the thief's story.

The main story is fascinati
...more
Book Concierge
This is an absolutely fascinating true crime account of the cartomaniac who stole hundreds of priceless maps from the stacks of such illustrious libraries as The Peabody (at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore). The aptly named Gilbert Bland Jr used several aliases and was never questioned by security or librarians. He gave every appearance of being a mild-mannered scholar. But he sliced maps out of ancient books, and then sold them to collectors.

Harvey crafts the story like the best true-cri
...more
GoldGato
This was certainly an interesting take on a cartographic criminal, namely one who steals maps from libraries. I have to admit I became a bit riled upon reading that rare books were destroyed in the guilty one's greed, so I didn't have much sympathy for him. But the author kept my attention by taking paths into the days of Columbus and Magellan and the great explorers, thus illuminating the constant crimes in search of rare maps.

Librarians do not come off well here. They allowed their books to be
...more
Meaghan
As a librarian who works with rare books, I obviously found aspects of this book horrifying: the idea of a thief coming into a library with a razor blade and chopping out maps ... yikes. A few times while I read I found myself making mental notes about whether there's anything I can do to make sure this never, EVER happens where I work. The chapters of Harvey's book that actually deal with the libraries and the books themselves were very much of interest to me.

A few of the other chapters are dig
...more
Gary Fowler
Mar 01, 2014 Gary Fowler rated it it was amazing
Great fun! The author's original quest was to write about one particularly successful and active map thief, Gilbert Bland; but there's much, much more. He takes us on his journey of discovery, learning about the history of maps and their development, the history-changing power of maps, map crime, the weird world of map collecting (where the thief could sell his ill-gotten goods)... all written in an accessible style and laced with refreshing, humorous phrasing. Highly recommended for anyone inte ...more
Pat Cummings
Jul 29, 2016 Pat Cummings rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
In 1995, authorities uncovered the longest-running art-theft spree in history. Florida antiquities dealer Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr., had finally been arrested, charged with the theft of over 250 medieval mappae mundi. Harvey's account, like an international thriller, tracks the astounding career of Bland, who is alleged to have single-handedly slashed the value of the world's antique map holdings by millions of dollars.

It was definitely an art theft. Antique maps, Harvey points out, are works of
...more
Jerzy
Oct 26, 2014 Jerzy rated it it was ok
Parts are worth the read, but other parts *really* need to be skimmed.

I was expecting, and got, a book full of interesting tidbits about the history of maps and mapmaking, interweaved with a quest to track down a modern-day map thief. There were nice insights into how maps were always used as political and military tools, how they are secured by librarians and produced by cartographers nowadays, how the trade in old maps for decorative purposes has become a bidding war and priced out the actual
...more
Brendan
May 17, 2016 Brendan rated it really liked it
In December 1995, a non-descript small-town antiquarian named Gilbert Bland Jr was charged with an astonishing series of crimes: a spree of thefts from North America's most prestigious libraries and rare book collections that left them bereft of some of the world's most priceless antique maps - often for years without knowing their collections had been looted. When journalist Miles Harvey first heard about the case, he thought it would be fascinating trying to explore the mind of the map-thief; ...more
George Ilsley
Oct 25, 2010 George Ilsley rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Instead of the title "the Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime" this book would have been more accurately titled "The Story of Maps: Plotting, Thieves, Discoveries, The Unknown, and Anything Else I Can Possibly Think Of."

The purported core of the story, a map thief named Bland, remains a mystery and so the author, in an attempt not to waste 10 years of research, throws everything and anything into the pot. The result is not that palatable and often quite boring.
Erin
Apr 28, 2011 Erin rated it liked it
Since I liked The Man Who Loved Books Too Much so much, I was hoping that this would be a similar work - just on maps instead of rare books. However, in this case, the map thief would not speak with the author. There was a lot of interesting material in the book but not really the thief's story. Also, at times the author got a little fanciful for my taste in drawing connections with the past and his present endeavor. Especially enjoyed chapters 5, 6 and 7.
Lynn
Dec 17, 2014 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Today’s post is on The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey. It is 405 pages long including notes and it published by Random House. The cover has the title and author’s name in a frame like a map legend. The intended reader is someone who is interested in cartography, true crime, and history. There is no language, no sex, and no violence in this book. The story is told from the first person perspective of the author. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket
...more
stephanieisabookworm
Jun 07, 2014 stephanieisabookworm rated it really liked it
This was a fairly interesting little book, although it did struggle to keep my interest at a few moments. It tells the history, through the present, of map-making and map-dealing as much as it gives the history of map-stealing. The specific case of Gilbert Bland and his cartographic crime spree is not as central as I had assumed it would be, which allowed for some interesting and pertinent tangents but also for an occasional sense of directionlessness. There were several divagations from the map ...more
Sue
May 05, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it
Very interesting story of a branch of literary theft -- specializing in taking maps, sometimes cutting desirable maps out of special collection edition books. As well as the hunters who track these thieves down. Interestingly, the thieves appear addicted to their pursuits, unable to stop even when they know they are close to being caught.
K.Z. Snow
Sep 11, 2010 K.Z. Snow rated it liked it
I was fascinated as I began reading the tale of enigmatic map thief Gilbert Bland and the history of the antiquarian map trade. However, I lost patience the more Mr. Harvey tried (too strenuously) to draw parallels between his own quest and those of history's famous explorers. The book became a case of too much author, too little subject.
HeavyReader
Aug 17, 2015 HeavyReader rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who are intrigued by maps
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is great! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I stayed up late reading it one night, then lounged in bed the next morning (my day off) to read some more.

The author describes this book as "part true-crime, part history of cartography, party journey of self-discovery." It's also the story of obsession, the obsession of people who spent huge chunks of money to collect old and rare maps.

(How did I end up reading this book and The Orchid Thief--a book about people obsessed with orchids--in the
...more
Cynthia
Oct 06, 2015 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Of all the books I've read about map fraud and theft, this one was not the most exciting. It was well-written, though, but toward the end it became sort of a portrait of the author's own obsession with following this story. As a character, the thief (whose name actually is Bland) is very bland. Having said all that, this is still a very good book and is superior to many other books that end up being psychoanalytical about the author as much as about the subject of the book. I think it suffered, ...more
Judy
Jan 11, 2010 Judy rated it liked it
An unusual topic, but an interesting read. The author follows the case of a man who stole historic maps from library collections and resold them to map dealers and wealthy persons. An informative look into the antique map field as well as the cartographic industry.
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Harvey is an American journalist and author who writes for Outside Magazine, and whose national and international bestseller, The Island of Lost Maps, was named one of the top ten books of 2000 by USA Today and the Chicago Sun-Times.

An adventure-seeker with a passion for exploration and discovery, Harvey won a 2004-2005 Illinois Arts Council Award for prose and a 2007-2008 Knight-Wallace fellowshi
...more
More about Miles Harvey...

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“What a vapid job title our culture gives to those honorable laborers the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians variously called Learned Men of the Magic Library, Scribes of the Double House of Life, Mistresses of the House of Books, or Ordainers of the Universe. 'Librarian' - that mouth-contorting, graceless grind of a word, that dry gulch in the dictionary between 'libido' and 'licentious' - it practically begs you to envision a stoop-shouldered loser, socks mismatched, eyes locked in a permanent squint from reading too much microfiche. If it were up to me, I would abolish the word entirely and turn back to the lexicological wisdom of the ancients, who saw librarians not as feeble sorters and shelvers but as heroic guardians. In Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures alike, those who toiled at the shelves were often bestowed with a proud, even soldierly, title: Keeper of the Books. - p.113” 3 likes
“A map has no vocabulary, no lexicon of precise meanings. It communicates in lines, hues, tones, coded symbols, and empty spaces, much like music. Nor does a map have its own voice. It is many-tongued, a chorus reciting centuries of accumulated knowledge in echoed chants. A map provides no answers. It only suggests where to look: Discover this, reexamine that, put one thing in relation to another, orient yourself, begin here... Sometimes a map speaks in terms of physical geography, but just as often it muses on the jagged terrain of the heart, the distant vistas of memory, or the fantastic landscapes of dreams.” 1 likes
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