The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey
In December 1995 Gilbert Bland was chased from the rare book room of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, clutching a 232-year-old map. He turned out to be one of the greatest map thieves in history. Miles Harvey traced Bland's journey from middle-class anonymity to dark criminality, to understand what drove Bland to steal some of the rarest cartographic treasures in the world. Since men have drawn maps, others have stolen them. During the age of discovery, map theft literally changed the face of the earth. Columbus discovered America thanks to charts purloined by his brother from the Portuguese; Francis Drake shattered Spain's hold of the Americas and made smooth passage to the East Indies with captured Spanish maps. Gilbert Bland mutilated the beautifully crafted work of 'world describers' simply with a razor blade. Harvey returns to the libraries whose collections were so depleted by Bland's thieving, to try to fill the gaps in this enigmatic man's life. He meets an array of fascinating characters who people the world of cartography: the guarded breed of 'keepers of the books' who go to extraordinary lengths to obtain and preserve the maps in their libraries; the brash, self-described 'biggest map-dealer of the twentieth century' who sells $10 million worth of maps a year; and the otherwise closed community of dealers whose honourable world was shattered by Bland. In The Island of the Lost Maps Harvey with great panache and humour conveys an intriguing subculture of map junkies. It is a sparkling story of artisans, villainy and riveting adventures into the unknown.