Bland is another person entirely; in fact he is several people, none especially notable—he becomes whoever he needs to be to gain entry to rare book collections. Harvey likens Bland to the "imaginary creatures" medieval cartographers used to adorn the margins of maps. In all of his personae Bland is such a polite nonentity that even the police who finally arrest him seem unable to believe he is truly a criminal. After all, what has he stolen? A few sheets of paper?
The ghost of Lloyd A. Brown was not pleased... Since his death in 1966, [he] had led a happy spectral existence among his books... Lloyd Brown had gone to heaven, and it was called the Grand Stack Room.
And so things might have remained, if not for the intruder... who crept into the library one day, seated himself at one of Brown's favorite old tables, and... began to slice up books.
As a lover of books, I have no difficulty siding with Brown's ghost. I could hate a man who calmly planned and callously executed such defacement. But Bland is not the only such criminal. Harvey introduces us to a Tulane University English professor who supplemented his income by stealing five maps (then valued at $20,000) from Yale University. We meet another thief who went to prison for stealing maps, was released on parole, and went right back again to take $100,000 to $300,000 worth of maps from the University of Minnesota. A Sunday school teacher and librarian turns out to be a rare books curator for one library who stole $500,000 worth of maps from another library. Two Greek Orthodox priests are trusted users of the Yale library who make off with an entire atlas. When police track them down it is discovered that they have stolen rare books from half a dozen other university libraries, some 200 volumes in all.
How do such valuable items come to be available for thieves to steal? The book explores this thoroughly, starting with the curator who is lambasted by the library community when she sends a warning eMail that exposes her library's vulnerability to theft. Far more interesting, however, are the frequent side-trips to visit topics that seem unrelated. Harvey's own family history is grist for his mill, and so is his fear when he finally gets to speak to Bland—by phone—after the trial. We visit the "peculiar islands" and search for the "waters of Paradise" that are found on antique maps, and also in the cobwebbed corners of collectors' souls.