Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Review: A Burglar's Guide to the City

A Burglar's Guide to the City
Geoff Manaugh
Architecture, crime

This is a good book for anyone who likes heist movies and caper plots--or, since I know my audience, anyone who plays games that invoke heist movies and caper plots. It's also one of those books whose structure mirrors its subject matter. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one is a matter of taste.

Manaugh starts with a simple premise: burglary--that is, stealing stuff from a structure--requires architecture, and architecture shapes burglary. Burglars see the city differently. They'll do things like camp out in a dumpster for the purpose of putting a hole in an adjacent wall. They'll burrow in at the north end of a row of connected buildings in order to steal something at the south end. Where you and I see streets, they see escape routes.

It's fascinating stuff. Manaugh serves up a feast of anecdotes and a wealth of extraordinary tidbits. Like his burglars, he tunnels from one thing to another. You can never tell where he's going to pop up next. Safe rooms, legal quiddities, an aerial view of Los Angeles, tips from a retired (?) burglar, forced-entry techniques, hobbyist lock-pickers, you name it: it's all here. As I was reading A Burglar's Guide to the City, I kept thinking: "This is more like a series of connected blog posts than a book". And lo and behold, once I got to the footnotes, I discovered that that's how it began.

I have a boundless appetite for useless knowledge. I enjoyed A Burglar's Guide to the City quite a lot. It's not ultimately as informative as it might be, though, because the random globs of information never really cohere. Arguably it should have stayed in the blogosphere . . . but if it had I'd probably have missed out on the useless knowledge aforesaid, and that would be a shame.

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