Book: The Napoleon of Crime

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

Author: Ben Macintyre
Publisher: Delta
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.


Arthur Conan Doyle fictionalized him as the superhuman Professor Moriarty, and the popular press luridly chronicled his daring heists, though the police never managed to convict him of anything major until he was nearly 50. Forgotten since his 19th-century heyday, master thief Adam Worth (1844-1902) gets a contemporary dusting-off in this cheerfully cynical biography by a British journalist, who sees Worth’s story as a case study in Victorian hypocrisy. The colorful New York and London underworlds are as meticulously described as Worth’s surprisingly attractive personality.

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