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The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara Hardcover – May 6, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 6, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450313
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Out of seemingly small events are sometimes born great historical moments. The case of young Edgardo Mortara is one. In 1858 the 6-year-old Jewish boy was taken from his parents' home in Bologna, Italy, by agents of the Papal inquisition. The year before, seriously ill, Edgardo had been secretly baptized, by the Mortaras' Catholic servant (or so she claimed); it was against the law for baptized Christians to be raised by Jews, and so, in the eyes of the Church, the kidnapping was only just. Secular Italians did not agree, and thus was set in motion a series of reforms that ended the Church's temporal power in Italy and forged the creation of a liberal, near-democratic state. For his part, young Edgardo became a priest and lived in a Belgian abbey until 1940--just before the invading Germans began to deport and execute all those tainted with Jewish blood. David Kertzer has shaped a remarkable narrative from almost forgotten events.

From Library Journal

Kertzer (Sacrificed for Honor, Beacon, 1993) has uncovered fascinating new information about the unification of Italy. He recounts here the kidnapping of a six-year-old Jewish boy from Bologna who was then raised as a Catholic under the supervision of Pius IX. The incident altered both Italian and church history. What Cavour, Garibaldi, and Victor Emmanuel II could not accomplish in the halls of Versailles and London, and even on the battlefield, the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara did by arousing antichurch feeling in the cause of national unification. This case is an example of the Catholic Church's institutionalized suppression of the Jews. Kertzer weaves the story into a vivid tapestry that will be appreciated by historians and Italian specialists. Recommended for academic and public libraries with 19th-century revolutionary European or Jewish studies collections.?Harry V. Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. System, Iola
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

It is a shocking book, yet very illuminating and well written.
Ricky Hunter
The trial of Momolo Mortara rivals any of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it is all the more riveting in the context of the amazing events that led to it.
Timothy R. Nichols
This is the haunting well documented story of Pope Pius IX and his reign over Italy and his edict.to snatch a Jewish child.
Michele Riley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on April 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
David I. Kertzer has written a wonderful account of a pivotal event in Italian, Jewish and Catholic history. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara tells the story of the 1858 kidnapping of a six year old Jewish boy secretly baptized while a baby by a Catholic servant in the home. From this horrifying personal incident for this Jewish family the panorama of the story grows very large indeed, taking into account the Pope, the governments of Europe, and the forces for the unification of Italy. The author does a superb job of making all of this understandable to the reader. He also never allows the epic scope of the book to overwhelm the family as the centre of all of this controversy. The Mortaras hold a special place in this tragedy as they deserve and the lives lived by Jewish families, such as theirs, in Italy is vividly presented. It is a shocking book, yet very illuminating and well written. Highly recommended.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is non-fiction at its best! David Kertzer deserves our applause for such professional and academic research. Using his background in anthropology and history, the author revives the all-forgotten story of the abduction by Catholic Church authorities of a 6 years old Jewish boy, in 1858, under the pretense that the child had been secretly baptized. Church authorities acted with utter contempt for Edgardo's parents, trusted on the belief that the boy would receive eternal damnation where he to remain a Jew. He was adopted by then Pope PiousIX who nurtured for the boy the affection of a father. This rather insignificant event (not unusual at that time in the Papal States) is given a pivoted historial role in the soon to come unification of the Italian states, flaming the forces behind the Risorgimento. The fact received great publicity at the time mainly due to the influence of the Rothschilds and Mr. Moses Montefiore. It's one more tale of prejudice, of abuse of power, reaching the unconceivable.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Timothy R. Nichols on February 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
I can't help but think that millions who do not know that they are interested in the history of the Italian Risorgimento would suddenly find themselves incapable of putting this book down. David Kertzer kept my attention while helping to answer my questions regarding how a country that is predominately Roman Catholic can name streets, buildings, and piazzas after the heroes of the Risorgimento who took by force most of the lands ruled by the Pope while Pope Pius IX called upon all the faithful to oppose them. I am now closer to seeing how statues and monuments honoring Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cavour, and King Victor Emmanuel can share the beautiful Italian landscape with cathedrals and the Vatican.

Historical events are impossible to understand without learning of the human issues of the times in which they transpired. Such a study should not be a dry recounting of the facts when it can be, as Kertzer demonstrates, a living, breathing, gut-wrenching encounter with those who created that compelling history.

I know it's almost cliché to say that this reads like a good novel, but it's true.

The trial of Momolo Mortara rivals any of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it is all the more riveting in the context of the amazing events that led to it. Sherlock Holmes could not have used his powers of deduction more skillfully than Momolo's attorney used his unbiased mind to separate facts from prejudiced and selective interpretations.

I give this book my highest recommendation. I hope that THE KIDNAPPING OF EDGARDO MORTARA has been or will be translated into Italian. Perhaps a greater awareness of the past can positively influence current challenges in Italy involving the assimilation of other cultures and religious beliefs - brought on by mass immigrations in recent years.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D3042 on November 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
Kertzer treats us to a very readable and lively story that includes passages rising even to the level of situation comedy and detective thriller. As an experienced author of anthropological history, the author knows his audience and craft well, and includes fascinating details of life in Italy during the 19th century.

The controversy of the Mortara child was created when Pope Pius IX steadfastly refused to return a boy that had been taken by local police from his family at the direction of the church. While the Pope held fast to ecclesiastical doctrine, diplomatic support for the Papal States collapsed worldwide and the Italian lands governed directly by the Vatican were soon swept into the unified nation of Italy.

An important theme throughout the work is the role of the newspapers in their coverage of the episode. Numerous, conflicting accounts of events appeared worldwide and precipitated the spread of the controversy into lands far removed from Italy. The temptation to exploit the controversy continued well after the unification of Italy and the death of Pius IX.

In a closing chapter we learn of an erroneous report that the child's mother had, upon her deathbed, converted from Judaism to Christianity. To see someone's life exploited for religious, monetary, or political gain should certainly raise readers' ire today even more than it did then. The report of Marianna Mortara's conversion was quickly corrected in the newspapers by a person who understood what it was to play the pawn, and about whom we still know almost nothing: Father Pio Mortara.
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