Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Review: Napoleon of Crime

Filed under: Fun,Review,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:14 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

I finished The Napoleon of Crime : The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief this week.
This is some of the most interesting non-fiction I’ve read in recent memory. Adam Worth was, indeed, a true master criminal. The book traced his larcenous career from its early start as a serial enlister during the Civil War, wherein Worth “died” and reenlisted several times for the signing bonus through the years as a pickpocket in New York city and on into his larger scale crimes, both in the US and abroad. Interestingly enough, he never used a gun in the commission of a crime. Apparently, Worth found it somewhat declasse and “the last resort of the small-minded”. At his peak, he ran a ring of crooks of all kinds, but maintained such a discrete distance from the actual crime that Scotland Yard could never definitively link him to a crime. They knew he had planned them, but they could never pin one on him.
His “greatest” crime was the one that almost undid him, namely the theft of Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire. At the time, this was the most expensive painting ever sold and Worth stole it to use as leverage to get a compatriot out of jail. “Little Adam”, as Worth was known, was famously loyal to the theives he organized and went to great lengths to keep, or get, them out of jail. That “honor among theives”, which was so rarely seen in reality, was one of Adam Worth’s hallmarks. And another fatal flaw. He almost bankrupt himself at least twice getting crooks out of jail, and his efforts were rarely rewarded with anything more than additional betrayal.
Still, for all his flaws, Worth was an actual master criminal who planned fabulously. He always had theives ready to work for him because his reputation was so good. For most of his working life, if you can call it that, his “jobs” went so smoothly that no one was nabbed, with few exceptions. And, those exceptions were due mainly to the utter stupidity of the crooks in Worth’s employ, including his own brother.
This book tells the story so well, that I almost forgot I was reading actual history. The writing flowed like the finest fiction and, indeed, some of the events were so incredible that one could scarcely believe them. The author, Ben Macintyre, doesn’t focus on dates and highlights the physical locations just enough to get the story across. Instead, he concentrates on what matters in Adam Worth’s life: people. The amazing characters, on both sides of the law, are what drove both this book and Worth’s life in crime. Macintyre brings them to life brilliantly. Frankly, after reading this book, I long for an age when criminals could have been so genteel and not the modern, crude thugs they have become.

I heartily reccomend this book to anyone interested in history or “true crime” or even biographies. Well worth finding and reading, even if you only have a passing interest in these topics.

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