Book Review: The Lost Island Of Maps

The Lost Island Of Maps:  A True Story Of Cartographic Crime, by Miles Harvey

At the basis of this book is a compelling story.  As is often the case, though, with a story like this, the author felt it necessary to shoehorn a lot of other related subjects, including a brief history of cartographic crime as well as the habits of valuing books for individual maps that made it profitable, and the way that a large market for maps and a low supply of maps has made it profitable to steal books from libraries and then sell them for parts.  Now, as a book lover who loves to have books together and who hates to see books destroyed, I found much of the discussion here to be abhorrent, but there are likely a great many people who read this book who will find this book to be somewhat of an inspiration on how one can earn profit from bookstacks and then become involved in a hyper-competitive community of people seeking to make money out of what comes from books that may or may not actually belong to them in the first place.  Whether or not that sounds interesting to you will in part determine how you appreciate this book.

This particular book is about 350 pages and is divided into thirteen chapters.  The author begins with a look at the world of maps and cartographic theft that the author devoted himself to in an introduction.  After that there is a chapter about the Peabody map collection and how someone was found to be attempting to steal within there (1) and also the sort of imaginary creatures on old maps that are worthwhile for resale markets to people who want classy and old-fashioned maps (2).  There is a discussion on those who have made money selling maps and atlases (3) and the problems of library security that put many libraries in danger (4), and also some tips on how to make and take maps (5).  The author discusses the invisible crime spree in stealing maps that is largely unreported (6) and a brief history of cartographic crime (7), as well as the author’s interest in Fremont’s pathfinding (8) as well as the way that Florida has long been a place where people go for new beginnings (9), as well as the subject’s joy of discovery (10) and the island of lost maps that he stole from many sources (11).  At this point the author looks for insight in the map thieves background (12) and his lengthy and complex life story (13), after which there is an epilogue, acknowledgments, interview, notes, and an index to close out the book.

In reading this book, I was struck by how it is necessary sometimes for people who write books to fluff out their page count considerably in order to write a full book.  In all honesty, this book’s contents about the actual true story of cartographic crime that the author is writing about could have been written in a few lengthy articles.  It is the addition of context, including the context on the trade in maps and atlases that has exploded in recent decades, as well as the discussion of the vulnerability of libraries and the way that older maps have gained in value as a sign of class and distinction that contemporary geographers have not been able to keep up with, that makes this book a full length volume.  In general I do not like to encourage people to pad out book lengths, as a book that is less than 200 pages but focused is more enjoyable than reading a diffuse but larger book that is long enough to draw interest from publishers.  Even so, this book is a solid one and it is easy to enjoy it, and so I don’t feel it necessary to be too harsh when it comes to reviewing it.  One can do far worse when reading about maps or their theft.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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