The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic CrimeAs a former literary editor for Outside magazine, author Miles Harvey knows a thing or two about the importance of maps when it comes to defining a subject. But in 1995 when he came across the true story in the Chicago Tribune of Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr., a contemporary map thief whose cartographic crime spree made him the most famous such bandit in American history, Harvey was more than intrigued. So, as any adventurer is apt to do, he set off down the uncharted trail of this "Al Capone of cartography" to learn why a South Florida antiques dealer would become master map thief. What began as a lengthy feature article for Outside turned into four years of researching the methods and motives of his enigmatic subject, thus The Island Of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime became a readable chart of these unusual crimes and the man behind them.
Visualize if you will a contemporary map thief. Beyond generating an image of a tweedy, nondescript, and somewhat less gadgetry-enhanced version of James Bond, it's more of a challenge to imagine why someone would habitually pilfer hundreds of old maps from prominent research libraries across Canada and the United States. In his investigations, Harvey descends into the intriguing subculture of map collectors and experts and the peripheral eccentrics who encountered Bland as he slipped undetected through the doors of various libraries with centuries-old maps of all kinds hidden on his person. Most interesting are the many obscure side trips Harvey makes during his trail of investigations which, written in highly descriptive and well-paced prose, create the mood of a dimly lit library during a thunderstorm. As we learn with each incident involving maps Harvey encounters, behind every map is a significant story. The story behind the greatest map thief in America is an entertaining adventure in history, humanity, and the fascinating role cartography plays in it all. Jamie McAlister writes from his home in Charleston, South Carolina.