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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 disreputable characters in search of a finite number of extremely rare objects.
Once considered a respectable antiquarian map dealer, E. Forbes Smiley spent years doubling as a map thief - until he was finally arrested slipping maps out of books in the Yale University library. The Map Thief delves into the untold history of this fascinating high-stakes criminal and the inside story of the industry that consumed him.
Acclaimed reporter Michael Blanding has interviewed all the key players in this stranger-than-fiction story, and shares the fascinating histories of maps that charted the New World, and how they went from being practical instruments to quirky heirlooms to highly coveted objects. Though pieces of the map theft story have been written before, Blanding is the first reporter to explore the story in full?and had the rare privilege of having access to Smiley himself after he'd gone silent in the wake of his crimes. Moreover, although Smiley swears he has admitted to all of the maps he stole, libraries claim he stole hundreds more - and offer intriguing clues to prove it. Now, through a series of exclusive interviews with Smiley and other key individuals, Blanding teases out an astonishing tale of destruction and redemption.
The Map Thief interweaves Smiley's escapades with the stories of the explorers and mapmakers he knew better than anyone. Tracking a series of thefts as brazen as the art heists in Provenance and a subculture as obsessive as the oenophiles in The Billionaire's Vinegar, Blanding has pieced together an unforgettable story of high-stakes crime.
"This is a highly readable profile of a narcissist who got in over his head and lost it all." - Publishers Weekly
""A fascinating story of ambitions high and low, the ancient yearning to chart a new world and the eternal lure of a quick buck." Kirkus
"This is an unforgettable and cautionary tale, told by an expert investigative reporter who writes with the narrative flair of a novelist. A great read!" - Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World, and contributing editor, The Atlantic
"The setting and the character belong in a novel, and this engrossing book reads like fiction." - Nina Burleigh, author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty
"In The Map Thief, Michael Blanding not only tells the spellbinding tale of a clever and obsessed thief, but he also adds to the field of research into people who commit crimes involving rare and precious items. " - Anthony M. Amore, co-author of Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists
"This is a terrific book. The portrait of Forbes Smiley here is one we rarely get of cultural heritage thieves - complete and even-handed, without being either credulous or vindictive." - Travis McDade, author of The Book Thief, and curator of Law Rare Books, University of Illinois
"The Map Thief isn't just a perceptive, meticulously researched portrait of an exceedingly unlikely felon. It's also a tribute to the beautiful old maps that inspired his cartographic crimes - and shaped our modern world." - Ken Jennings, Jeopardy champion and author of Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
Michael Blanding is an author and journalist with more than fifteen years of experience writing long-form narrative and investigative journalism and has written for The Nation, The New Republic, Consumers Digest, and The Boston Globe Magazine. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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