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The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps | [Michael Blanding]

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps

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.

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2014 Blanding Enterprises, LLC (P)2014 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (66 )
5 star
 (16)
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3.8 (58 )
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4.0 (58 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 06-19-14
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 06-19-14 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "with a little charm, you can rob almost anyone"

    Great recap of how Mr. Smiley navigated his way from scholarly research of old maps into stealing them, in an effort to support his lifestyle.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Lou Cave Creek, AZ USA 10-19-14
    Linda Lou Cave Creek, AZ USA 10-19-14

    Obsessive reader, 6-10 books a week, chosen from Member reviews. Fact & fiction, subjects from the Tudors to Tookie, Harlem to Hiroshima, Huey Long to Huey Newton.  In-depth fair reviews - from front to BLACK!!! 

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "AN OPPORTUNITY WASTED!"

    GRIPPING?!? I don't think so! This is probably the most boring book I've ever listened to. This was an opportunity wasted by the author. A little-known subject matter which COULD have made a great story. All I got was a greedy privileged man who thought he was above the law. When caught, Edward Smiley got sentenced for a white-collar crime. Yet, he stole valuable antique maps with the "mens rea" of a street thug. Cat burglars, jewel thieves and even map thieves should be charming and charismatic. Smiley had the personality of a box of wood chips! Author Michael Blanding does nothing to raise this subject and this sociopath to the level of any intelligent person's interest.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Cook 10-23-14
    C. Cook 10-23-14
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    "If you like maps, listen to this!"

    I've always been fascinated by maps -- old and new. This little gem of a book enriched my understanding and knowledge of maps. AND, it's a great story about how Smiley got away with theft after theft before he was caught.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric 10-20-14
    Eric 10-20-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Gripping...NOT Exciting"
    What would have made The Map Thief better?

    I thought by "gripping" they meant exciting. I was wrong. While interesting, this novel was nothing like I anticipated. I expected some adventure but perhaps I should have read into the description a little more.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 10-18-14
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 10-18-14 Member Since 2014

    I love Audible! Long car drives, long walks! Audible seriously makes me wish my walks could be four hours long every day.

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    "Charting the History of Cartography"

    I couldn't stop listening to this story as it unfolded. The whole concept of maps as fine art but off the radar enough that thefts on the scale of the "Thomas Crown Affair" could actually be pulled off and be profitable. The inside look at the antiquarian book and map trade was dripping with suspenseful intrigue. But at the heart of the book was a story of humanity, of just incredibly flawed characters and a disaster waiting to happen. Along the way there is just an incredible amount concerning the history of mapping, the early cartography of America and why it matters. It really gives a unique perspective on the history of the United States and all the issues the played into its creation.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jody R. Nathan Tulsa, OK USA 10-15-14
    Jody R. Nathan Tulsa, OK USA 10-15-14 Member Since 2002
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    "True story reads like a novel"

    I enjoyed the book. There was enough history of mapmaking to put the story in context. Indeed, the short history was probably the best part of the book. One gets some insight into the main character, and there are also interesting details regarding those in the business and the libraries which were victims of the crimes. I only wish there had been some illustrations or photos included.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim 10-15-14
    Jim 10-15-14 Member Since 2006
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    "Disappointed"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    the story was boring. Much like reading a list of someones purchases over a lifetime.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charles M. Wyzanski CAMBRIDGE, MA USA 08-19-14
    Charles M. Wyzanski CAMBRIDGE, MA USA 08-19-14 Member Since 2005
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    "The value of maps--monetarily and otherwise"
    Would you listen to The Map Thief again? Why?

    I won't want to hear the book again but I would like to skim the hard copy, particularly if there are any photographs of the various characters depicted.


    What other book might you compare The Map Thief to and why?

    Like the excellent "Hanns and Rudolph" book, this is an exploration of evil. Contrary to Hannah Arendt, I would say it is not so much banal as multifaceted.


    What about Sean Runnette’s performance did you like?

    The narrator has a very pleasant and precise delivery that serves to greatly enhance the pleasure of the book.


    Any additional comments?

    The book could be somewhat condensed but its pace and the narrator make the book a pleasure nonetheless.

    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
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