‘The Map Thief’ Makes Cartography Cool

by Kim on June 23, 2014 · 14 comments

the map thief by michael blandingIt’s taken me forever to try and write a review for The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, which came out on May 29 from from Gotham. It was the book I chose for my May pick for Bloggers Recommend, but I’ve been having such hard time expanding on that little blurb:

In 2005, the small world of antiquarian map collectors was shocked to learn one of their own had been stealing maps from libraries around the world. This book illuminates the true story behind this high-risk crime and, along the way, engagingly exploring the complicated history of cartography, where maps have served as tools for navigation, props for political propaganda and, more recently, been coveted as works of art.

I liked The Map Thief because it is a great mixture of true crime and history where both the crime and the history are a little bit obscure — one of my favorite types of nonfiction.

The world of antiquarian map collectors is rather small and insulated, which makes the way E. Forbes Smiley III build his reputation as a collector then threw it away after being caught stealing maps from libraries and collections around the world stand out. Smiley is a man full of contradictions that Blanding explores in great detail. Blanding had cooperation from a vast array of sources, which makes his portrait of Smiley very detailed.

But perhaps even more interesting than the story of Smiley’s thefts is the way Blanding weaves in a history of maps and mapmaking. Over time, maps have served a variety of purposes and have influenced decisionmakers around the world, depending on the particular biases or knowledge bases of their creators. It was interesting for me to think more critically about the way maps tell stories and show how our views of the world can be changed based on what we can see or not see.

The Map Thief was a quick but thought-provoking read — one of those light but juicy nonfiction books that I love reading in the summer. Get yourself a copy!

Other Reviews: River City Reading | Words for Worms | Julz Reads |  Doing Dewey |

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather @ Capricious Reader June 23, 2014 at 9:42 am

I’m listening to the audiook right now and am loving it for all the reasons you say. I just love how he is weaving in the history of the maps. They are fascinating.

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Kim June 24, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Right? I didn’t think I’d be that fascinated with maps… and yet I was. I thought that was neat.

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Belle Wong June 23, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I think this will be one of my next audiobooks. It sounds good, and I love maps. I also have Simon Garfield’s On the Map in my to-read pile, too.

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Words for Worms June 23, 2014 at 9:17 pm

I really enjoyed this one, I’m glad you did too! Thanks for linking to my review :).

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Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf June 23, 2014 at 10:32 pm

It’s on my shelf waiting for me, and so far I’ve only heard amazing things about this one! Glad to read another positive vote for it!

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Kim June 24, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Definitely! I think this could be a candidate for a nonfiction “beach read” — fun, compelling and easy to get through.

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Jennifer June 24, 2014 at 9:43 pm

I wouldn’t think that maps would be such an interesting subject but this actually sounds really interesting!

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Katie @ Doing Dewey June 25, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I really liked this one too! I thought the balance of history with a personal story was perfect. And despite all the information and fun facts, it was a great, light read for the summer, very easy to get through. Thanks for linking to my review!

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Jenny @ Reading the End June 26, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I’m very much looking forward to read this. It’s gotten a lot of love around the blogosphere, and I am crazy about maps. (I have a very silly plan for decorating my dining room with (among other things) maps, and I’m looking forward to implementing it.)

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Kim June 26, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I love the idea of decorating with maps!

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Care June 27, 2014 at 7:09 am

How am I just learning about this? I think my dad and brother would love this book, too.

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Linda Boa @ crimeworm November 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm

I really fancy this…been eyeing it up on Amazon, but I’ve so many books from NetGalley to review I really shouldn’t be buying more…if I do get it, I’d prefer a hard copy as opposed to an eBook, as I think it’d be better for looking at the maps – they’ve always fascinated me.

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