"Beyond the age of information is the age of choices." Charles Eames. Hartman, Carla and Eames Demetrios. 100 Quotes by Charles Eames, p. 40.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The Map Thief

Blanding, Michael. The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps. New York: Gotham Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-592-40818-7. Kindle $10.99; Cloth $27.50. 300p.

How did E. Forbes Smiley, an experienced and respected map dealer, become a criminal who stole and defaced numbers of important, historic maps owned by prestigious libraries and museums? How did he escape detection for years?  Investigative reporter Michael Blanding (and collector of subway maps) interviewed Smiley, as well as some of his clients, other map dealers, librarians, and law enforcement to find out. 

As the narrative unfolds, it is impossible not to be amazed at the duration and extent of Smiley's deceits to steal and sell maps to support his lifestyle and grandiose ambitions. Even with cameras and staff present, Smiley found ways to separate antique maps from bound books, fold them into tiny packages, and hide them in his briefcase or jacket. After his eventual arrest in 2005, he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and admitted to stealing 97 maps worth over $2 million. In exchange, he was given a light sentence--E. Forbes Smiley was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

While the story of Smiley's offenses and prosecution is interesting on its own, Blanding takes his investigation further by reporting how those affected by Smiley's thefts responded once his crimes were revealed. In-depth reviews of collections and security practices by affected institutions led to provocative conclusions. Instead of 97 missing maps,  more than 200 (listed in the appendix) were found to be stolen. And, budget constraints often limited the types and number of security measures an institution could implement.

Librarians and archivists make up a logical audience for Blanding's book and I highly recommend this book to them. For genealogists, The Map Thief provides insights into why and how libraries must balance security needs with access. Find this title at your local library, bookseller, or online merchant. 

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