The Napoleon of Crime:

The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief

by Ben Macintyre

The ideal target for Macintyre's (author of Forgotten Fatherland mordant pen, Adam Worth (1844-1902) came to be called the Napoleon of crime not only because of his short stature but also, as the author points out, because anyone in that day who dominated a field was known as the Napoleon of it. At age 14, American-born Worth ran away from home, becoming a bounty jumper, then a New York City pickpocket and finally graduated to organized crime of practically every variety. He carried out his deeds with utter impunity, despite the surveillance of Scotland Yard and Chicago's Pinkerton Detective Agency, and eventually became the model for Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty, according to Macintyre. Most interesting here is the story behind the theft in 1876 of Gainsborough's portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire, which Worth held on to for 25 years. The Victorian tendency to blend lofty moral standards with excessive baseness is deliciously illustrated in the persons of Worth, his great adversary and friend William Pinkerton and a rogues' gallery of criminals, detectives and high-society folk. Some of Macintyre's observations are repetitive, but he has composed a portrait as spiced with wit as its subject is colorful.

The book has been both a Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club selection, and film rights are optioned by DreamWorks SKG.


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