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The Map Thief

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  2,516 ratings  ·  462 reviews
The story of an infamous crime, a revered map dealer with an unsavory secret, and the ruthless subculture that consumed him
Maps have long exerted a special fascination on viewers—both as beautiful works of art and as practical tools to navigate the world. But to those who collect them, the map trade can be a cutthroat business, inhabited by quirky and sometimes disreputab
Hardcover, 222 pages
Published May 29th 2014 by Avery
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3.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,516 ratings  ·  462 reviews

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Jessica Woodbury
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, kindle
I do not read much nonfiction because I like a story that really pulls me along, one full of strange characters and intriguing plot twists. But that's exactly why I enjoyed THE MAP THIEF so much. The story of Forbes Smiley, who went from prestigious dealer of rare maps to thief and convict, is a classic example of truth being stranger than fiction.

You don't need to be a map aficionado, Blanding guides you through the world of rare maps which is often reminiscent of fine art, with collectors and
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I believe that nonfiction is rated somewhat different than fiction. This book earns five stars for a few reasons: The author has researched extensively, there is no question about facts, which I really appreciate in a nonfiction book. Blanding also explains how historical maps were made and by whom, promoting an understanding on what would make a map valuable. Library and museum collections and how they are viewed and stored are also explained. The book is about Smiley's map theft and Blanding t ...more
Jun 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
A well written blend of history and crime that will strike terror into the hearts of most rare book librarians, including me.
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own
The Map Thief has so many compelling things to offer: the history of cartography, insight into the world of rare and antique map dealing, and a true crime story. My favorite aspect was the detailed chronicle of how early navigators discovered new coastlines and continents, developing mapmaking to aide in exploration. During the time of cartographical renaissance, America was a blank space on a map that would eventually be filled in as travelers ventured further inland. As more sophisticated tech ...more
As a librarian at an institution with a collection of maps that is almost completely uncataloged, this book kind of scared the bejeezus out of me. But more importantly for the reader, Blanding does a good job of weaving the story of Forbes Smiley (the titular map thief) together with the history of cartography and map collecting—a niche community with less than a hundred serious dealers in the entire world. Smiley is an interesting, infuriating, and sad character who turned a respectable career ...more
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent research and fluent style make this non-fiction book the perfect doorway into the world of cartography and the love of maps. I've always loved maps, but now I feel that I know a lot more about them and how they are appraised. This is also a thriller-like story of a master-thief who has managed to steal many cultural treasures before he was finally caught (not a spoiler - it's in the first pages of the book). Blanding does a good job (I think) of trying to understand the mind of the man ...more
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it
I won this book in a goodreads firstreads drawing.

This is really a two part book. Part of it deals with maps, map-making, and the history of cartography and map stealing. The other part is a biography of a famous map thief, E. Forbes Smiley III.

The part that dealt with the history of cartography, and the influence of maps and mapmakers on history I found fascinating. I also enjoyed the parts about business and hobby of map collecting. The biography, was vague, creating a narrative that even the
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews
This is the story of E. Forbes Smiley III, a cartography enthusiast and map dealer who turns into a thief. As one reads the story, one is struck by defenselessness of the library system against such felony. There are several character analysis points explaining his transformation and we watch as this character reaches a grandiose, almost delirium like state through a bad career with a terrible spending habit. We see destruction of many priceless irreplaceable books. We also get a notion about ho ...more
I could not manage to stay interested in this. I gave up early in Ch 6. I think I expected the book to focus more on the thefts and how he was caught. As of Ch 6, we had just gotten to 1989, when his gallery was - supposedly - cleaned out by thieves, though the building superintendent, still around when the author was researching, knew nothing about any such theft. In skimming forward, I saw a lot about some community that the thief built, spending fortunes he may not have had.

There were some i
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in 36 hours-- which is not something I ever thought I'd say about a book that deals with the antiquarian map trade. But Blanding has written this such that I couldn't put it down-- the end of his chapters, in particular, propelled me right forward to the next. A book that's fun to read and also teaches you something? (I haven't thought of maps the same way since.) Brilliant.
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Map Thief by Michael Blanding is a very highly recommended nonfiction account of a map dealer who stole hundreds of antique maps from collections, as well as a history lesson about some of the maps he stole.

You don't have to love old maps to fully appreciate The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding, but it helps if you at least appreciate them and enjoy reading about the history behind the creation of some
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, crime, thriller
When I read the blurb on PW about Blanding's book, it took me a while to determine if the book was fiction or nonfiction. Either way, I knew that I wanted to read it.

Blanding has done so much research surrounding the case of E. Forbes Smiley III, dealer-of-rare-maps-turned thief. This is not just a true crime novel. It's more extensive than that. It's also an introduction into the profession of map dealers with a sneak peak into the dynamics among various related professions. Maps are created a
Gregory Flemming
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
The best history books are more than history -- in the best, you also learn something new and, often, there is mystery and intrigue. The Map Thief by Michael Blanding has all of that. A fast-paced book (read the first chapter and see), The Map Thief tells the story of E. Forbes Smiley, a rare map dealer who turns crooked, secretly stealing centuries-old maps from some of the most famous libraries in America and then selling them for profit. Unlike classic paintings and other rare art, often ther ...more
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
On the title it says the 'gripping story'...well gripping it's not. At least it wasn't for me. Due in large part because the copies of the accompanying maps were so small that any of the details --that they delved into, sometimes in great detail, was completely lost on me. The story was best describing the realization of betrayal and what that betrayal of trust between client and dealer, friends, and I would think family although the book didn't go into that aspect at all really, took on all inv ...more
Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Map Thief is the account of a dealer in antique maps who betrays his calling and the scholarly community by stealing rare and irreplaceable maps from libraries and universities for his own profit. The account of this terrible series of crimes is a page-turning story. Blanding’s knowledge of the history of map-making and the map trade makes it a fascinating book on many levels.
While I found the parts about mapmaking and map history interesting, I feel a little conflicted about the way the actuality of the crime was handled. Blanding dances around the way the criminal justice system privileges white-collar criminals like Smiley as compared to other kinds of non-violent crime. This issue is mentioned in the text once, but it is otherwise glossed over, leaving me with a lot of questions about the impetus behind this book, nearly a quarter of which is devoted to singing S ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting non violent true crime story of how one man stole large numbers of historic maps from libraries and museums and resold them to other dealers or collectors.
Lyn (Readinghearts)
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who love history mixed with true crime
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: Netgalley

In his introduction to the book The Map Thief author Michael Blanding writes, "Maps have long exerted a special fascination on viewers-both as beautiful works of art and as practical tools to navigate the world." What he forgets to mention is that they can also be snapshots in history. For me, they are all of the above, so a book centered around historical maps seemed a natural. Add to that my fascination with true crime accounts, and it is no wonder that I jumped at the chance to read and revie
Tony Parsons
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Naomi Sato (f, librarian) had spotted Edward Forbes Smiley III in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University) & told her supervisor Ellen Cordes about his strange behavior while he was looking at books of old maps. She also found an X-acto knife blade on the floor by where he had been seated.

The case began to unfold. Ralph Mannarino (Yale head of security) was called & he in turn called Detective Martin Buonfiglio (New Haven P/D) who began his investigation after n
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it

Maps, to me, are simply a navigation tool to get a person from point a to point b. The idea that you would collect, steal or even write a book about maps is completely foreign to me. All that to say, if you are going to get me to read a book about maps, it better be a really good book.

The Map Thief is the true story of E. Forbes Smiley III, a map dealer turned map thief. Smiley's story is interspersed with a history of maps, his New England upbringing, rise in the ranks of his profession and ult
Scarlett Sims
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you were watching a sitcom and a character started talking about how interested he was in antiquarian maps, that would probably be the writers sending a signal that the character was supposed to be boring. However, those writers would be wrong because apparently the antiquarian map world is kinda crazy. In addition to telling the story of an esteemed map collector/dealer who turned to theft, Blanding's book gives lots of information about famous historical maps and makes points I had never th ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Though he was once part of an elite circle of antiquarian map dealers, E. Forbes Smiley’s career came to an abrupt end when he was caught stealing maps from the Yale University library. In The Map Thief, Michael Blanding details not only Smiley’s elusive career and eventual downfall, but digs deep into the fascinating world of rare maps.

The Map Thief catches readers from the start as it begins with Smiley’s end. With detail that rivals the best heist films, Blanding describes the steps Smiley to
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Forbes Smiley is a dealer in expensive, antique maps. He is an expert, a connoisseur, and a family man; a generous friend and a civic-minded citizen. Oh, and he's a thief. Welcome to the true story of a map dealer who got lost and violated the trust of the very industry and institutions that once made him a success. Journalist Michael Blanding tells the story as equal parts narrative and history of map-making, so by the end of the book the reader not only knows the very surprising story of Smile ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for maps. Always have been, probably always will be. Topographical maps, especially, but here the history of maps is what drew me in.

And then, thinking of a few people who I could see making decisions like Smiley's? Kept me turning the pages.

[Four stars for making someone I would've guessed I'd hate a somewhat empathetic figure - even as he stole and damaged millions of dollars worth of maps. Also for maps. Because, well, maps.]

Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Being a librarian/archivist by training and a map-lover by birth this book reads like a horror story to me. I am really glad this was documented and that many of the places I have worked have changed their practices in light of thefts like the ones mentioned in the book. It is so sad that some people violate the trust of all of us in defacing cultural artifacts for personal gain.
Mar 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A great audiobook - my mind wandered at times, but less so had I been reading this book. Liked hearing so much about libraries, and their collections. Certainly learned a great deal about maps and cartography.
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I like it when nomfiction reads like fiction and michael blanding has done a good job of telling the story of forbes smiley andhis roadto crime. and being a librarian I get the pain of losing treasured items. good read.
Adam Morel
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
A true story of the past and present, of greed and land grabs, boorishness and betrayal, of the shaping of nations and the preservation of power. You don't have to like geography or history or crime stories or maps to enjoy this telling but, if you do, you are in for a hell of a treat.
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
An in-depth look at the world of rare map collectors, the origin and importance of many old maps and how a respected dealer stole (and sold) over 100 rare maps from libraries and universities.
Gina Enk
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating look into the world of collectors, maps and libraries. Blending reports this story with a clear chronology and is careful to reveal the humanity of all who are involved.
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Colin Houser - Summer Reading Review 1 1 Oct 16, 2018 04:29PM  
Lit Lawvers: The Map Thief (November 2014) 4 25 Nov 03, 2014 05:52AM  
Fans of Maps: The Map Thief 2 21 Oct 14, 2014 02:10PM  
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Michael Blanding is the award-winning author of The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps (Gotham, 2014) and The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink (Avery, 2010). A magazine writer with over 15 years of experience, he has written articles for The Nation, The New Republic, Consumers Digest, Forbes, Bo ...more
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