I did not know that a reliable and discreet way of stealing a map from a book is to suck on a thread of cotton and lay it along the bound edge until the enzymes have thinned the binding sufficiently for the page to be gently detached. The cruder, swifter way – with a blade – was favoured by the most prolific of all map thieves, Edward Forbes Smiley, who half-inched 97 of them from libraries in America and Britain. Another serial larcenist, Gilbert Bland, simply tore them out: ‘I just wanted them,’ was his explanation when he came up in court.
We can sympathise with the sentiment, if not with the methods. The passion for making and possessing maps is as old as our curiosity about the world we inhabit. Simon Garfield’s rich and revealing book is one more notable celebration of it.
In part the book is a straightforward retelling of