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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

Critic Reviews

" 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 Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Carole T.
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 12-10-14

A Study of the Strangeness of People

This is a fascinating listen! You might think map collectors and dealers just couldn't be all that interesting, but you would be wrong.

Anyone who has poured over a map on the fly leaves of a book or noticed the beauty of a colorful map will appreciate the subject matter here. There's a lot of surprisingly enlightening information about the history and artistry of map making around the world. Listening while on road trips, my husband and I found ourselves learning a lot and enjoying the process.

But this is not a book just about maps. It's primarily about people and their odd, odd ways. Forbes Smiley is the map collector, student, dealer, and, finally, thief. He's a complicated man - one who can love maps and the libraries which harbor them while, at the same time, consistently stealing for personal gain from the institutions and people who trust him.

It's also about the incredible lack of records and security in rare book libraries and archives. About the defensiveness of university and public library officials who fear losing prospective donations so much that they fail to report thefts from their collections. About collectors and dealers who eagerly snap up maps which they well know may be stolen. About the distinction between "fine art" and these lovely antique maps and atlases - and the discrepancy between punishments for criminals involved in stealing them.

This book is about a lot. I think just about anyone will like it!



8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 06-19-14

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Doesn't live up to the hype.

This was sold as an adventure story and it was a dry documentary. I did learn a great deal about early map making and the past and present values (both directionally and monetary) of these works of 15th to 18th century mapmakers. But exciting; only to a student of cartography, topographical history buff, or to someone who had acquired maps from the main character and just found out that they had purchased purloined papers.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Blythe
  • Alberta (formerly California)
  • 04-29-16

Dry but interesting

The story of map dealer turned map thief Edward Forbes Smiley, intertwined with much general information about the history of maps and the world of map collections. Well told and well researched, though at times a bit dry. If maps interest you at all this is definitely a book for you. If not, your mileage may vary. I found it interesting, but wouldn't reread.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Should refund for the narration.

Story was a bit heavy on history of certain maps and lean on the actual "map thief". It was painful to listen to. Could not return the book as bought as a 3 for price of 2 promo. Although the narrator reads well, he has a significant speech impediment which is beyond annoying throughout the book. Most "s" at word ends become "esches". Picture yourself paying to listen to a "schtory" about "bookshs and mapshs" for 7 hours. Audible should refund.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • TM
  • 12-11-14

Got Me All Excited About Maps

Any additional comments?

A juicy inside account of the fall from grace of a world renowned map dealer. Moments of suspense, nuggets of very interesting history of early explorers and map makers.

Well worth a listen. Certainly inspired my own interest in the intricacies and quirks of historic maps.

Well written and well read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Detailed review of cartography

While this was a book was about Forbes Smiley it was also a detailed history of maps and the libraries who house them. While very informative it was at times very detailed in its' discussion of maps.
If you are just looking for the more human side of the information you may just want to look up Forbes Smiley.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Hidden intrigue in library's oldest books.

I enjoyed the book and learned about the Map market, but it's not a terribly exciting book. I like the Reader and that helped me finish. I think that the author did an excellent job of wrighting on a fairly dry subject.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Una gran historia

El autor nos lleva q la historia de los mapas y subirán impacto en la sociedad hasta nuestros días

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anna
  • Aiea, HI, United States
  • 04-02-16

An eloquent spiraling from greatness

The book was well spoken by the narrator, good pacing of the plot and tangible in its mystery within its delivery. I had to double check I wasn't hearing a fiction novel a couple of times. Will certainly look for more of this author's work.