The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime By Miles Harvey

By Jesse Roberts
Miles Harvey is an American journalist and writer with an inherent fascination with maps. The Island of Lost Maps is his most well known work to islandmapsdate and guides the reader through the turbulent world of cartographic crime. The central theme of the book is the story of how map thief, Joseph Gilbert Bland, managed to systematically steal and sell some of the most valuable maps in the world. By 1995, Bland had infiltrated libraries across the United States and Canada, armed with a “hit list” of desired maps. He was eventually caught and the arduous task of recovering all those maps began.
At first glance, this may not seem like much of a story. When a friend recommended this book, I wasn’t too sure about it but my love of history and libraries soon won out. Once into it, I couldn’t put it down. Miles Harvey takes a mixture of fact, evidence, testimonial, history and lore and weaves them together to produce an enticing world of cartographic espionage.
The language used throughout this book is incredible – be on the lookout for Harvey’s description of original map making techniques and formats as well as a particularly fantastic diatribe on the term “Librarian”. Tales of explorers and adventurers find their way into the story along the way, adding even more personality to the work.
I do wish the book would have ended about 50 pages shy of its 404 page count. By that point it feels like the author is throwing together all the dry loose ends to leave no question unanswered. Despite this flaw, I recommend it to anyone with a love of fiction and history, but only a passing interest in tales of true crime. This book is available as an e-book from the Thunder Bay Public Library.
(Jesse Roberts is the Head of Reference Services with the Thunder Bay Public Library – jroberts@tbpl.ca)

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