• The Map Thief

  • The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps
  • By: Michael Blanding
  • Narrated by: Sean Runnette
  • Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (695 ratings)

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The Map Thief

By: Michael Blanding
Narrated by: Sean Runnette
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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 listeners say about The Map Thief

Average Customer Ratings
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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!



10 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

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.

8 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    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 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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 person found this 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 person found this helpful

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

Map lore, singsong narration

What did you like best about The Map Thief? What did you like least?

As noted by other reviews, the map lore overtook the story, and read in a rather singsong voice, it lead to lack of interest rather than learning.

1 person found this 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 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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Only the maps were interesting

Very little value to this story. I did find the background stories of some of the maps he stole to be interesting, but not enough to make this book worthwhile. The thief was a privileged, greedy, destructive individual who put his financial status ahead of the preservation of these maps for all to enjoy. No sympathy for this guy at all. His destruction of these old works of art for his own personal gain is unforgivable. The entire story left a bad taste that I just cant get over.

1 person found this helpful