The Map Thief by Michael BlandingThe Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding
Narrator: Sean Runnette
Published by Tantor Audio on May 29, 2014
Source: Purchased
Genres: Non-fiction, True Crime
Length: 8 hrs 35 mins
Pages: 222
Format: Audiobook
Purchase at or Audible
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The story of an infamous crime, a revered map dealer with an unsavory secret, and the ruthless subculture that consumed him

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.

I found The Map Thief absolutely fascinating, not so much because of map dealer turned thief E. Forbes Smiley, but because of all the information about the history of mapmaking and map collecting.

I will admit that I did pick it up because it’s a true crime story. Smiley was a respected antiquarian map dealer in who ended up over his head and began stealing rare and famous maps from universities and turning around and selling them. Eventually, he got caught, but it was surprising how little security the rare book/map rooms had. And how incomplete the record-keeping was. And collectors and most other dealers never questioned his finds either.

My favorite parts of the book were when Blanding spent time explaining the maps that were stolen and their significance. It was well-researched and easy to read. I learned so much about maps, their uses, the history of map making, and the historical figures behind them. I probably won’t remember much of it, but that’s beside the point.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Map Thief. I kept having to tell David and Amber map facts and how libraries didn’t realize how much they were missing until after Smiley’s arrest. And even then there hundreds more missing than he admitted to.

About Michael Blanding

Michael Blanding is a Boston-based investigative journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, WIRED, Smithsonian, Slate, The Nation, The Boston Globe Magazine, and Boston. His latest book, In Shakespeare’s Shadow: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest to Reveal the True Source Behind the World’s Greatest Plays, was published by Hachette Books in 2021, and won the International Book Award for Narrative Non-Fiction. His previous book, The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps, was published in 2014 and named a New York Times Bestseller; an NPR Book of the Year; a New England Indie Bestseller; and winner of an NES Book Award from the New England Society of New York. His first book, The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, was published in 2010.

Michael was formerly a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and a senior writing fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In addition, he has been a senior writer at Harvard Business School; a senior writer and associate editor at Boston Magazine; and editor of New England Travel magazine. He has also co-written several travel guides to New England destinations for Moon Handbooks, and taught journalism and creative nonfiction at Tufts University, Emerson College, Northeastern University, and GrubStreet Writers. He lives outside Boston with his two children.


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