A New York Times Notable Book
Synopses & Reviews
A national bestseller that was praised on the cover of the New York Times Book Review
, The Napoleon of Crime
is the captivating, colorful, and frequently hilarious portrait of Adam Worth, history's most famous thief, the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty, and a man whose code of honor turned Victorian society on its head.
The Napoleon of Crime is the first biography of Adam Worth, the most famous criminal of the Victorian Age and the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's insidiously brilliant Professor Moriarty. An American-born Jew who rose through the ranks of New York's Jewish underworld, Adam Worth amassed millions and built a criminal network that reached from New York to London, Paris, and South Africa.
Suave, sophisitcated, and incomparably successful, Worth was a man who change identities as readily as Houdini slipped out of his chains. He was a self-made gentleman of distinction who mingled freely with the upper classes whose money he effortlessly stole. His cadre of cohorts included gargantuan "Junka" Phillips as bodyguard and butler, "Piano" Charley Bullard, "one of the boldest operators that has ever handled a jimmy," and Charles "the Scratch" Becker, master forger. Mastermind and safecracker, Worth never resorted to violence. His scrupulously planned bank heists won him the lasting admiration of his lifelong adversary, William Pinkerton, but his heart belonged to an "unusually beautiful" Irish barmaid, Kitty Flyn.
The pinnacle of his perfidious career was the theft of Gainsborough's celebrated portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire herself a distant relation of Princess Di which he held on to, and somtimes slept with, for twenty years.Finally imprisoned after a jealous associate ratted on him, Worth ultimately lost everything that meant anything to him his wife, his children, his lavish possessions everything except the dazzling Duchess. Through the good offices of Pinkerton, who came to support Worth and even, his children, he surrendered (for a price) his lovely Lady, and she was promptly bought by the Napoleon of Wall Street J.P. Morgan.
"A hilarious and highly readable account of a time when there was still a certain amount of honor among thieves." John Mortimer, The New York Times Book Review
"Adam Worth, the greatest thief of the 19th century, could have furnished the basis of a great novel...Ben Macintyre has given him a biography that reads like one." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The ingenious details of [Worth's] most memorable heists are hilariously recounted in comic fashion by an author who expresses genuine affection and admiration for his flawed subject. This fascinating and amusing biography will delight true-crime buffs." Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
"Macintyre has done his research well, and his book reads like an exciting detective novel." Library Journal
He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson.
He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city.
He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. . . .
--Sherlock Holmes on Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem"
The Victorian era's most infamous thief, Adam Worth was the original Napoleon of crime. Suave, cunning Worth learned early that the best way to succeed was to steal. And steal he did.
Following a strict code of honor, Worth won the respect of Victorian society. He also aroused its fear by becoming a chilling phantom, mingling undetected with the upper classes, whose valuables he brazenly stole. His most celebrated heist: Gainsborough's grand portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire--ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales--a painting Worth adored and often slept with for twenty years.
With a brilliant gang that included "Piano" Charley, a jewel thief, train robber, and playboy, and "the Scratch" Becker, master forger, Worth secretly ran operations from New York to London, Paris, and South Africa--until betrayal and a Pinkerton man finally brought him down.
In a decadent age, Worth was an icon. His biography is a grand, dazzling tour into the gaslit underworld of the last century. . . and into the doomed genius of a criminal mastermind.
About the Author
Ben Macintyre is the author of Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche and is the Paris bureau chief for The Times (London). He lives in Paris with his family.