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THE ISLAND OF LOST MAPS: A TRUE STORY OF CARTOGRAPHIC CRIME By: Miles Harvey May 14, 2011

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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     This is a positively fascinating non-fiction account of the history of maps, books about maps, and the restoration and destruction of them. The Lycan Librarian happened across this book in Florida, at a resale shop that benefits a cat sanctuary. Although there were shelves and shelves of books, this 2001 selection, alone, jumped out at her, and since she tries to avoid dragging more books home than she already owns, was the only book she purchased there. (We won’t discuss the charming woven fuchsia tote or the large and spectacular handmade crucifix also found that day.)

     Back to the book now — In between the fascinating pieces that reveal historical and technological facts, Harvey tells the tale of a thief who made it his profession to travel across the country, from library to library to steal maps from the oldest and rarest books in their collections. Upon removing the maps with a razor blade, the man would find ingenious ways to escape with them, even secreting them  in his clothing if necessary. Once he carted them away,  he would sell them for astronomically high prices; we’re talking about exquisite pieces from some of civilization’s earliest surviving books. There was one particularly heartbreaking story about a book this man destroyed that had been restored after years of fundraising to afford the effort. There is also a list of all the worst (or are they the best?) known map thieves.

     Some stories of historical figures and maps are unexpected and extremely interesting, so if you are a history buff, by all means, find this book. There were many historic battles both won and lost through maps, and you will learn about them in these pages. You will also be educated on the making of ancient maps, their symbols, and how they and the books containing them are restored. Harvey’s work  is a keeper, a book to be slipped on the reference shelf in your home library, so you may refer back to the wealth of information he has provided. This is truly a page-turner, and hard to put down. As the reader finishes one chapter, the next beckons with a teasingly titillating title. If you enjoy nonfiction and out-of-the-ordinary books, but don’t think you have an interest in maps, don’t let that stop you from reading this selection. By the time you finish it, you will be searching for books with maps, and may even make a beeline to your local AAA office to get your hands on maps, maps and more maps.

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