Book Review: The Napoleon of Crime by Ben Macintyre (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, the Real Moriarty by Ben Macintyre

Three Stars

“[He had] plenty of time for morals; it was laws he disdained.”

Award-winning well-researched and written biography of a criminal no one heard of … even in his own day. His most infamous crime was the theft of a Gainsborough portrait, then the highest priced art in the world. Along the way, he burglarized, robbed, or forged on five continents and became the model for one of literature’s most famous criminal: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty.

“Crime need not involve thuggery.”

A notable difference between Adam Worth and the fictional crime lord is that Worth avoided violence. He regarded carrying, much less using, fire arms a sign of incompetence. But he did not hesitate to lie, cheat and steal his way to the heights of society, starting with faking his own death during the American Civil war.

“The Darwinian struggle for survival, which is after all a struggle without morals.”

Macintyre is exhaustive in his documentation despite having few sources. Worth was uncooperative that way. Repetitive at time, Macintyre propels the reader through Worth’s amazing life and times. Late Victorian England anticipated current America.

“You cannot get a thing right for a newspaperman … if you write the facts down to him he will change them about to suit himself.” William Pinkerton

Perhaps the most startling thread is the master criminal’s relationship with William Pinkerton, the world famous detective. The latter chased the former across several continents and ended by performing an extraordinary service for the then old, dying reprobate.

“Glorying equally in his real wickedness and his apparent probity.”

In the late nineteenth century international justice cooperation was just beginning. (Odd that not extradition existed between the US and UK.) A nimble crook could stay one step ahead of the law. Worth literally cruised the world looking for opportunities to separate the rich from the burden of their wealth. No Robin Hood, Worth did take care of his own people (even when they didn’t take care of him) and his friends and family.

“Empowerment by fraud struck a chord with thousands outside the genteel upper stratum.”

Macintyre follows Worth through the stealing and wasting of several fortunes, detailing his relationship with both real and bogus upper crust, not to mention some of the most daring crimes of the century.

“… about as correct as a newspaper ever gets anything.” William Pinkerton

A good read.

“There’s money in it.”