Two takes on “The Map Thief”

Paige Evers '22 and Becca Koch '22

Becca’s Review:

My efforts to find new books to read led me to stumble upon The Map Thief by Michael Blanding a few months ago. It sounded really interesting, a down on his luck map dealer steals over $3 million of maps from various libraries to sell to wealthy clients.
I’m going to be honest here: my expectations for The Map Thief were not met. Maybe it was Hollywood glamorization of thievery. I had gone in expecting elaborate plans, dangerous missions, and running away from police only to resurface in a foreign country with a new name. No, The Map Thief did not meet my expectations. It was the story of a middle-aged man sitting in a library slipping maps in briefcases. The only running from cops was more of a brisk walk away from Yale campus police.
That’s not to say the book wasn’t insightful. I enjoyed reading about the history of ancient maps and the trade today, it just wasn’t what I had gone into it thinking. Overall, I did enjoy The Map Thief. It was definitely out of the realm of things I normally read.
One thing that is important to know is the topics covered in the book. While you might think it is mainly about Edward Forbes Smiley III, probably half of the book is discussing the origins of maps and their creation. It was necessary for the plot. By providing context about how maps were made and their distribution, I was able to understand more why some are so highly valued. However, it could be very long at some points. I acknowledge the necessity of learning about John Smith’s maps of New England, but basically a mini biography of him wasn’t necessary.
I give this book a 6/10. It is good, but I think for a majority of people you would either need to be very interested in maps or history in order to truly enjoy The Map Thief. Read this is you want to learn about a very niche interest, but don’t expect to be amazed.

Paige’s Review:

I really didn’t know what to expect from The Map Theif by Michael Blanding. At first, I went into it thinking it was going to be a fictional novel because it had never crossed my mind that there is currently a deep map trade going on in our world behind closed doors. I then realized it was a nonfiction book about a living man who is in his 60s now named Smiley, he started out as a map dealer who later turned into a thief due to his financial struggles which were caused by him trying to create the perfect oasis in a small town in Maine for his family. I found the map history rather interesting as well as how much the maps went for because I never realized how expensive they were. Some maps could go for thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the way they story tell, how old they are and what they represent. Though, I found that Smiley’s financial troubles and how they were detailed in the book very dull to me. I think it is good that it’s in the book as it gives background, but it almost gives too much background. I felt like it was unnecessary because I only really cared about the maps and the business of map trading. I think the author tried to create a balance of half-and-half between Smilely’s life and his map business, but I would have preferred if it was split ⅓ about Smiley’s life and ⅔ about the map business. In my mind, map collecting seems like a full time job that dips into your life if you aren’t careful with your finances.
Overall, I would rate the Map Thief a 5/10 as I found certain aspects of the book intriguing, but others quite the opposite. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, maps, or to anyone who has free time and wants to have a quick read about something fascinating.