I can certainly recommend that you read The Island of Lost Maps
(2000) if you are:
1. Interested at all in maps and mapmakers.
2. Like the unraveling of a true mystery.
3. Enjoy a meandering read that includes a bit of history, a smattering of Greek and Roman mythology, tales of navigators who sailed in the Age of Discovery, and adventures of the pathfinders who helped to map and explore the United States.
The overall arc of this true crime story is about a mild-mannered man who committed crimes in public against the public. It is brilliantly told by author Miles Harvey.
Gilbert Bland was by all accounts as bland as his name. But his actions were not quite so unimaginative. Mr. Bland went on a map stealing crime spree that took him to research libraries in the United States and Canada and perhaps even Great Britain. After gaining access to rare books rooms with a fake identification card, Mr. Bland would ask for specific volumes and when no one was looking - which apparently was quite often - would cut out valuable maps, stuff them under his shirt, and walk out of the library. He then sold the stolen maps to collectors and dealers. He actually had a Hit List - a notebook full of specific ancient maps that he wanted to pilfer.
It made me feel quite sick to my stomach to read about someone who had the temerity to handle a book with razor blade in hand.
In the telling of Mr. Bland's criminal career, capture, confessions, and convictions, the author gives the reader so much more than just a tale of thievery.
There are stories of Christopher Columbus, American explorer John Frémont, famous mapmakers, and wheeler-dealers in the map collecting world. Mr. Harvey takes the reader all over the map from the Garden of Eden to El Dorado; from Ponce de León's Fountain of Youth to Vietnam; from the Peabody Library in Baltimore to the University of Washington Library in Seattle; and from mapping land to mapping oceans and space.
One also gets a glimpse into what drives Mr. Harvey to track down information about a man whom he is destined never to meet and the lengths to which he goes in order to try and determine the Why of Gilbert Bland's actions.
Mr. Harvey also interviews professionals that give insight into the motives that drive individuals to obsessively collect everything from ancient maps to books to PEZ candy dispensers.
And, after reading this book, you will never again look at the people sitting at reading tables or lurking in the stacks in your local library without just a smidgen of suspicion.
The Island of Lost Maps is truly a remarkable trip into known and unknown worlds. As a matter of fact, I am so delighted with this book that I will happily send my copy (which has a few markings in it from the previous owner) to anywhere on the map if you leave a comment expressing a desire to read it. In the event of multiple comments, I will draw the winning name out of the proverbial hat on Monday or Tuesday. Happy tripping!