Manaugh (The BLDGBLOG Book, 2009) melds a romantic's taste for the furtive with the nitty-gritty of subverting architectural design in this fascinating, occasionally overfurnished examination of the art and science of burglary.
One can't write a story of the built environment without telling the tale of those with designs on the designs: the often ingenious (but more often inept) criminals who want to break in. This rogue's gallery extends from ancient Rome to 19th-century architect-turned–heist artist George Leonidas Leslie to reformed practitioners of the present day. We also meet the security experts and law enforcement specialists who are tasked with anticipating and thwarting their incursions. Manaugh demonstrates that it is not so much what burglars steal that is interesting but how they move within an edifice or metropolis to do it. Having covered architecture and urban design for a decade, the author knows that where most see doors and windows, locks and alarms, burglars see the geometries of M.C. Escher. Buildings define the sorts of crime that can be attempted there, though it is not simply the architecture of an individual building, but the blueprints of whole cities. “Every city blooms with the kinds of crime most appropriate to its form,” writes Manaugh, and burglars can intervene along unexpected paths, turning the city itself into a tool for breaking and entering. The author investigates the myth of the burglar, how novels and caper movies reveal our secret admiration for their craft, tools of the trade (exotic and prosaic), the vulnerabilities of the vault and cult of the lock, the false security of home security systems, how the Internet and social media have been a boon to crime, and, as counterpoint, how the easy pickings of a digital age find burglary in dramatic decline.
Manaugh's authoritative writing wields a descriptive elegance, but while much in the book seems self-evident, he goes to great lengths to define it, and now and then, this laboring of the obvious results in unnecessary padding.