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The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,146 ratings  ·  124 reviews
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 th
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 6th 1998 by Delta (first published 1997)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,146 ratings  ·  124 reviews

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Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere)
When I read a review of this in 1998 I immediately put it on my wish list. As a Sherlock Holmes fan how could I not want to read about the man that was possibly the model for Morriarty? (Quick wikipedia link for Worth for those who are impatient.) And so the book sat in my wish list, but didn't get purchased, because I was forever thinking it'd pop up in ebook form. Finally I gave up and just bought a paper copy, because sometimes you just have to hunt down books that have been on your list too ...more
Jan 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, ebook, memoir
“[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 diff
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is better than mediocre, and the underlying story is definitely a good one. Unfortunately, the best parts are rather thin, as most of Worth's career was not documented, understandably so as successful crooks are not the ones who brag. The author padded the book by going on and on about the few parts he found documentation for, and the results is unbalanced.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In-depth study of the life and psychology of a master-thief and the supposed inspiration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty (though the inspiration would not approve of the Professor’s violence). While some of the psychological observations seemed a far-reach, the overall study was fascinating. I found the details of the life of famous detective, William Pinkerton, as compelling as the analysis of Adam Worth. A simple summary of this biography would be “crime never pays,” but Macintyre f ...more
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having been killed in at the Second Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War, one would have thought that Adam Worth's life was over. But, no it was not for he faked his death and then became a professional 'bounty jumper', earning himself plenty of money into the bargain.

Thus began his life of crime and another soldier in the Union Army was later to comment on this part of Worth's career. He was none other than William Pinkerton, later of the famous detective agency and someone who not only
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
THE NAPOLEON OF CRIME: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief. (1997). Ben Macintyre. ***.
Born in Boston to German immigrant parents, Adam Worth took to crime early in his life. As I read on, I realized that he had never held a salary-paying job in his life. He started out as a pickpocket, or dip, training under the master dip in the city. He showed a real talent for this, and soon moved up to have apprentice pickpockets working for him. From there, he decided that he needed to move up
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Another good one by Macintyre, but for a change, not about spies in WWII, but instead a masterful criminal who led the Scotland Yard, the Pinkerton Agency, the French and Belgian police on a merry chase for most of his life. He died, was resurrected as a Henry Raymond, another famous individual who had died, and remained in this identity for the rest of his life.

He led a sophisticated gang of criminal forgers, bank robbers, thieves and safe crackers. While he built his empire, he rose from his
Steve Nelson
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Very good at times, The Napoleon of Crime is an appreciable attempt at the biography of Adam Worth, the man who served as the true-life base for Conan Doyle's Moriarty. The problems with this book are its slow pacing and its constant tangents into the lives of various other criminals, the Pinkertons, aristocrats, and so on. Many times it feels as though the book is a term paper and the author is trying to stretch it to meet a length requirement (which is almost laughable as each page is packed w ...more
Dec 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment! It sounded like a terrific book, and I'd recently read another book by McIntyre that was quite engaging. Briefly, Adam Worth was the man whom Arthur Conan Doyle modeled his fictional Professor Moriarty on. Unfortunately, this book takes an extremely plodding approach to the subject -- it's a bit of a dull-witted bobby, if you will. There's lots of material here on the Pinkertons, a famous stolen painting, lots of double dealing, and a roller-coaster of a life, but it's jus ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, crime, winter
Since I'm not a Sherlock Holmes aficionado, I didn't realize that Adam Worth was the inspiration for the famous Moriarty until I picked up this book. Worth was the most brazen thief of the Victorian Age, sort of like a Hitchcockian cat burglar of the 19th century. In this bio, we get to learn about the thief and his gang, plus the famous heists. I enjoyed the actual character of Adam Worth, as he kept to a stringent set of values that his enemies lacked.

This is a decent good read, perfect for a
Ronnie Cramer
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history that ties together a number of disparate personalities from the Victorian Era. Not as good as Macintyre's later works, but head and shoulders above most books.
Maggi LeDuc
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Super entertaining and had me rooting for Worth the entire time. A fantastic weekend read.
Jim Stennett
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fun read! And it’s all true. Highly recommended.
William DuFour
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
An excellent book on his crimes and friends. With a hat tip to the Pinkertons on who he had respect for and eventual friendship of all things.
John Fulcoly
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
The story was interesting but I wanted more details on crimes and travels and such. But the writing style and repetitiveness wore me down. Way too wordy, too many stretchy assertions comparing people and his love affair of a photo. I have loved every Ben M book I've read but this one seemed like a different author. Good thing I didn't read it first. There are some interesting rid bits of history but only for the strong willed readers.
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A friend passed this on to me, and at first I did not warm to it. But for some reason I decided to keep going, and found it really fascinating as I kept reading. Not that big a Sherlock Holmes fan, so the fact that this was the likely model for arch-villain Moriarty was less compelling than the true life story. The true life story is wild, much crazier than any fiction, as is so often the case. Also really fascinating social history, worth reading on that account alone.

This quote from the Pinker
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book. It tells the story of Adam Worth who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for the character of Professor Moriarty. He was born in America and became a criminal at a early age. He built a gang of cohorts who robbed, forged, and cheated millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims. His claim to fame was the brazen theft of the famous painting of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough from a London gallery in 1876. He stole it and kept it hidden for over sevent ...more
Sep 06, 2010 rated it liked it
If you're skillful enough to earn the respect of the Pinkerton Detective agency and become the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Moriarty... you've led quite a life. There are some interesting snippets in the book for sure but the middle plods on forever (2 stars for easily 100 pages) with some of the losers associated with Worth in his criminal dealings. The best parts are the relationship between Worth and William Pinkerton, the theft of the Duchess painting, and Worth's odd relationshi ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Though a bit meandering at times, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although it is a true story, it took on elements and twists and turns like A work of fiction. It seemed to me that many of the elements of this book - including interpersonal relations and motivations - served as archetypes in many film and books over the years. Most intriguing were Adam Worth's relationships with his henchmen, the many loves of his lives, and even the Pinkerton police. As a master criminal, worth was involved in ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biographical
Who has even heard of Adam Worth? I hadn't, but his story sounded interesting...and it was. Toss in a Pinkerton or two and you've got something there...

So why the average rating?

Well, that's because of author choices. The author chose to sensationalize a story that really, really didn't need the gilding. Adam led a unique, interesting life that required no silly comparisons or overblown adjectives.

Less would have been more. As far as I know, though, it's the only biography anyone's written on Ad
Nathan Alderman
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Though Ben Macintyre seems occasionally a bit too in love with his own turns of phrase -- and a bit too willing to sneer at others' -- he still crafts one heck of a fun yarn. His account of the sordid, thrilling life and times of Adam Worth, perhaps the last and the greatest of the genuine gentleman thieves, has all the twists and turns and memorable characters of any great novel. It's funny, intriguing, and, in its portrait of Worth's declining years, and his strange and wonderful friendship wi ...more
Darla Ebert
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
Started out in such an interestingly written fashion that I was glued to about the first 50 pages or so, then it kind of crashed and burned (for me). The style became more "bureaucratic", for want of a better term and bogged down in details that I did not care about. However, I've read other similar books (similar in genre/era/characterization) which managed to include those kinds of details and still made the reading interesting.
I just think "The Napoleon of Crime" could have told the real sto
Sep 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: serious, bookclub
The interesting subject material carries this biography along though the author included quite a bit of drag to the actual story being told.

Ben Macintyre clearly did his research well and his insight into Adam Worth's motivations were very well thought out but I found his opinions on some other issues that were briefly mentioned a little too much opinion and less factual evidence.
Eugenea Pollock
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: car-books
Excellent true tale of a criminal genius, a model for Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty (as well as T.S. Eliot's Macavity), his network of accomplices, his nefarious rivals, and the Pinkerton brothers who eventually exposed him.
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Usually I get bored with biographies but this book is quite entertaining and contains facts about the life of Adam Worth who were not known. Also, the story is very good and always leaves you in suspense.
Apr 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of the most engaging pieces of non-fiction I've read. I blew through this one in a night and have shared it with many people, none of whom, to this date, have been disappointed. Riveting stuff for fans of Conan Doyle, Pinkerton detectives, fingerprints and thievery.
Rachel Pollock
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it
A fascinating story, poorly told at a lurching pace. I'd like to read a different researcher's take on all this, one less prone to wild conjecture and casual sexism.
Clint Joseph
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I cannot help it; I just kind of like true crime books. And that is something I never thought I would say. But when you find a good mix of biography, history, crime, and solid writing, you can't help but enjoy it.

If you don't know anything about this story, which I didn't (book sale pick), it's pretty stupidly intriguing. It's all the classic Victorian era, gentleman of crime ideas thrown together, with a surprisingly (as opposed to over-bearing, or "this is fluff" feeling) amount of backstory
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a most interesting book. I like the flair that the author uses in his writing style--it is very descriptive and rather dramatic. It really kept my interest. Adam Worth is a Victorian criminal of whom most have never heard. Yet he was one of the most successful thieves ever to live. He eluded detectives on several continents.

This is a really big book that went into great detail regarding the various crew members used by Adam Worth, as well as the women in his life. It described a great ma
Doug Phillips
As much as I wanted to like this book, it took some odd turns and placed an inordinate amount of focus on the Gainsborough portrait "The Duchess of Devonshire". I was much more captivated by Worth's life of crime in general, and it is very interesting to learn of his connection with William Pinkerton, the felon's friend through the latter part of his life.

It is interesting to read of Worth's contemporary criminals in Victorian England and the United States - living during the heyday of industri
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Ben Macintyre is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, and Rogue Heroes, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.
“After the Civil War, Worth drifted, like so many veterans, to New York City, which by the mid-1860s was already one of the most concentratedly criminal places on earth. The politicians were up for sale, the magistrates and the police were corrupt,” 1 likes
“only ever stole from those who had money to spare and remained adamant that crime need not involve thuggery: the Pinkertons found it astonishing that “throughout his career he never used a revolver or jeopardized the life of a victim.” 1 likes
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