In the mid-19th century, a criminal gang led by George Leonidas Leslie went on a crime spree, robbing around 80 per cent of all of the banks in the US. They included the Manhattan Savings Institution, from which $3 million were stolen in 1878. Leslie was, in fact, a trained architect who applied his professional status and skills to his clandestine criminal career. He would ask for floor plan blueprints from bank owners, pretending to be using them for work, and experiment on small replicas of frequently-used safes and vaults at home. He was never caught, but was eventually murdered by a member of his gang. 


Leslie is one of the colourful criminals who inspired Geoff Manaugh, a Los Angeles-based design blogger and a big fan of heist films, to investigate the relationship between architecture and crime. The result is A Burglar’s Guide to the City, an eloquent and exciting book combining investigative journalism with descriptions of some of the most ingenious robberies in history, as well as the attempts by the law to prevent them. 


In looking at the city from the perspective of a burglar, Manaugh reveals the secret routes and spaces concealed in the metropolis: the forgotten entrances and exits, the fire escapes and sewage systems; the daily routines of workers, residents and police, even the technology designed to protect the city that offer opportunities for the astute, meticulous thief to strike.


The author cites incredible examples of skill, but also singular acts of remarkable stupidity. Take the notorious diamond heist in Antwerp, Belgium, for example, where in 2003, thieves stole jewellery valued at more than $100 million by taking advantage of weaknesses in an elaborate security system, only then to give themselves away with DNA evidence retrieved from a partially-eaten salami sandwich discovered near the crime scene.