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The Island of Lost Maps A True Story of Cartographic Crime

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  2,149 Ratings  ·  331 Reviews
In 1995, a watchful patron alerted a librarian at Johns Hopkins University that another patron, a middle-aged and well-dressed man, was behaving suspiciously. The librarian called the police, who discovered that the man, a Floridian named Gilbert Bland, had cut four maps from a set of rare books. On investigation, the police were able to attribute dozens of similar thefts ...more
Paperback, 405 pages
Published January 10th 2002 by Phoenix (first published January 1st 2000)
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Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
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
Peter Macinnis
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!

Jun 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Map lovers called Wanda
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Gerry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erik Graff
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cartophiles & librarians
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Kosinski
Shelves: history
This is one of those popular history/current affairs books which takes a theme, in this case the career of a antique map thief, and supplements it with excurses into other, related subthemes and topics. The thief in question here is one Gilbert Bland. The text begins with his arrest at the Peabody Library, an arrest which began the investigation revealing a whole series of thefts, spanning North America. This and the efforts of the author to retrace not only Bland's criminal career but also his ...more
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 21, 2014 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
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
"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
Oct 14, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am still shaking my head about Miles Harvey's "The Island of Lost Maps" -- what a wasted opportunity for an interesting book. I decided to read this one after reading Michael Blandings' excellent and far superior book "The Map Thief" and I just shouldn't have bothered.

The book is supposed to be about map thief Gilbert Bland Jr., who ripped maps out of library books and made a pretty good living at it until he got caught. Harvey clearly doesn't have enough material on Bland for a full-length bo
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is nominally about a man named Gilbert Bland who made a living for a few years stealing antique maps from books in libraries across the U.S. and Canada. It starts out well, covering a variety of interesting topics: explorers and map creators, antique map and book restoration and map collectors. Unfortunately it gets off the track about half way through. First the author presents a strained analogy between the motivation of Bland and explorers like John Fremont. He follow this up with c ...more
May 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Nelson
What started as an intriguing story and interesting idea turns into something else by the end. The author realizes that he isn't going to be able to finish the story he has begun, so he tries really hard to interject himself and his experiences into the story. Some interesting historical stories here and there, but the author tried too hard to find meaning where there wasn't any. By the end, I wanted the book to be done
Nostalgia Reader
2.5 stars

Good map facts throughout, but nothing that you couldn't learn from reading any of the multitudes of other map history books out there.

And while the focus on Bland was good in theory, because the author was unable to interview Bland directly (and Bland certainly wanted nothing to do with him), much of this part of the book takes on a purely speculative tone. In a way, it becomes more of a memoir of the author's search for information on Bland and maps, rather than an actual history-biog
Debra Hale-Shelton
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-history
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
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, nonfiction
This is all about map collecting as a hobby, a job, an obsession, and a way to steal & destroy history to make a quick buck. Ostensibly, it's about a guy who was caught cutting old maps out of their original books, from collections belong to specialized map libraries. The author is pretty critical of those map librarians, especially compared to the relatively light treatment given the thief & the businessman who has driven up the price of maps over the last few years; I think they should ...more
Gary Fowler
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
George Ilsley
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.
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Anne Jordan-Baker
I really tried but could not make myself finish this book. It had great moments and some great ideas--e.g., the idea that humans use metaphors of geography to talk about life as in "the journey of life," etc.--but not enough for me. The main character's story, to me, became just a dull description of a sociopath's meandering criminality. Yawn.
K.Z. Snow
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.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add cover for this ISBN 0965004057 3 16 Sep 07, 2016 03:09AM  
Cartographic Crime? 2 33 Apr 15, 2009 10:45AM  
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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 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” 4 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.” 3 likes
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