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The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  299 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
National Book Award Finalist

Bologna: nightfall, June 1858. A knock sounds at the door of the Jewish merchant Momolo Mortara. Two officers of the Inquisition bust inside and seize Mortara's six-year-old son, Edgardo. As the boy is wrenched from his father's arms, his mother collapses. The reason for his abduction: the boy had been secretly "baptized" by a family servant. Ac
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 30th 1998 by Vintage (first published May 6th 1997)
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(showing 1-30 of 842)
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Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This book was a finalist for the National Book Award, and deservedly so. But the catch is, you probably really have to like a good history; the story is not told in straightforward, narrative style, and it isn't a novel. Parts of it read like one, but it probably isn't a book that you'll want to check out if you're looking for a "folksy" history for the lay person. This book has a great deal to do with the risorgimento, the unification of Italy, and it does give a lot of well-researched historic ...more
Feb 03, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: italo-file, histories
An historical account of a little-known, fascinating event that shaped Italian history in the period of unification. In 1858, little Edgardo was taken from his Jewish parents in Bologna and spirited away [if you'll pardon the expression:] to the Vatican because he'd been secretly baptized by the family's Christian servant girl. Not only is it shocking that this happened within the last 150 years or so, the Monty Python refrain,"No one expects the Inquisition!" comes to mind - the reader learns t ...more
Claire Monahan
Aug 30, 2009 Claire Monahan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who have PLENTY of time, patience, and interest
I've decided I simply can't read this anymore, as much as I would really like to finish it. I just can't. This book is going to be impossible for anyone to read unless you are truly a devout history reader, or if you have a very keen interest in this subject. For anyone else, it is going to be much too dry, much too thorough, and much too researched.

That isn't to say that I don't appreciate what Kertzer has accomplished here: I am in awe at the great length he has gone about to craft this inten
Sep 08, 2012 Lurdes rated it really liked it
A truly fascinating tome on a part of history that is largely forgotten, I love this type of book because it educates me on a topic about which I knew nothing. A classic tipping point in history, Edgardo Mortara was a 7-year-old Jewish child who was secretly baptized by his parent's illiterate Catholic servant girl, prompting the Italian Inquisition to extract him from his home in the late 1800s. While it was a centuries-old practice, popular sentiment, the strengthening of the global press and ...more
Kristine Brancolini
Aug 25, 2015 Kristine Brancolini rated it it was amazing
This books resonated with me for a wide range of reasons. We read it for the Jewish Book Group at our library, which is part of a Catholic university. The discussion was led by a history professor, who is faculty member in the Jewish Studies program. Knowing the type of discussion we would be having, I flagged many passages and facts as I read. It's my favorite kind of non-fiction: well-documented, with lots of endnotes and references, but written in an engaging style. Nominated for the National ...more
Christian Engler
Sep 21, 2013 Christian Engler rated it it was amazing
In reading The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara by David Kertzer, readers might find it difficult to not shake their heads in utter disbelief, for it elicited that reaction in me. Nominated for the National Book Award, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara tells the compelling if not disturbing true story of Catholic zealotry gone terribly awry.

On a June evening in 1858, six-year-old Edgardo Mortara and the rest of his Jewish family were at home living their lives and minding their own business. Howeve
Oct 21, 2014 Robyn rated it it was amazing
This book is still giving me chills, and I finished it over a week ago. First heard about it while taking a Jewish history class in college, found it at a used book sale about 3 years ago, and finally started reading it once I, now a mom with a toddler who just happens to have the same birthday as the boy in question (and a sister who who was born it Italy and baptized by a babysitter only a hundred years after this incident), returned to Italy for another long stay. Very creepy reading it here ...more
Melissa Ooten
Jul 09, 2016 Melissa Ooten rated it really liked it
Absorbing history of Jewish oppression told through the story of a 6 year old boy kidnapped by leaders of the Catholic church in the mid 19th century.
Apr 25, 2016 Jean rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara is set to be a movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. Since he only selects really great subjects, I decided to get the book to see what it was all about.
The story is of a young six-year old Jewish boy who lives in Bologna with his family. He is kidnapped by the Catholic Church because he was secretly baptized as a baby by a Catholic girl who worked for the Mortara family. The mother is distraught, and the father spends years trying to get him released. But he's
Steven Coulter
Mar 24, 2016 Steven Coulter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This non-fiction history explores the collapse of the Vatican as a secular power. And the catalyst was the church's own inhumane kidnapping of a single Jewish boy in 1858. In Bologna, officers of the Inquisition burst inside the ghetto home of a Jewish family and kidnapped their nine-year-old son, Edgardo, claiming that he had been secretly "baptised" by a family servant. The church supported such violence and gave rewards to those good Christians who reported it because no child baptised as Chr ...more
May 29, 2015 Patrick rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding example of history being told through the combination of scholarly historical research and the weaving together of a compelling story.
It reads like a novel as it relates the impact of the “kidnapping” on a wide assortment of affected people: from the small town parents and family of Edgardo Mortara, to police and government officials; high Vatican officials to include the Pope; ambassadors, foreign secretaries and heads of state in several countries, and yes – even offici
May 01, 2016 Harold rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2014 Hillary rated it it was ok
Well, I didn't actually finish the book. I was reading it for my book group's next meeting and I just couldn't make myself slog through it. I read about 133 pages and decided that was it. Interesting idea--how one incident (the kidnapping, by the Catholic Church, of one small Jewish boy who was allegedly baptized by a maid in 1858)affected so much history...Then there are all the elements leading up to this incident: political, religious, technological, principle, it's a great idea ...more
Adam Hummel
Feb 08, 2015 Adam Hummel rated it it was amazing
Exceptionally well-researched and well-told book about this little known historical event.

This book, though long at times and immensely steeped in history, mainly with respect to the ever-shifting ground of Italian politics in the second half of the 19th century, did a tremendous job of telling the little known story of Edgardo Mortara and his kidnapping by the Catholic Inquisition in Italy.

I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely for the more history-minded reader, as there is lots of int
Michael Lewyn
Oct 28, 2014 Michael Lewyn rated it it was amazing
This book reminds us how new religious liberty is to the Catholic world. As late as the 1850s, the Pope still ruled several provinces in Italy ("the Papal States"). And under then-Pope Pius IX's interpretation of canon law, if a Christian baptized a Jewish baby (which could be done with a few sprinkles of water while the baby's parents were not looking), the Church could seize the child years later and forcibly convert him to Christianity- which is exactly what happened in the Mortara case. The ...more
Betty Confetti
Feb 21, 2016 Betty Confetti rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read. Kertzer does an excellent job presenting the emotional impact of Edgardo's kidnapping on his parents and the long journey the couple followed for the return of their son. One comes to better understand a Europe that was so hostile to Jews, and also a Church where power was measured by political boundaries, not just religion. As a practicing Catholic, I'm mortified by what happened to this poor couple and all of their children. As a human being, I'm mortified by how political ...more
Apr 10, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing
Some of my favorite history books use a single / central event as a launching pad to explore a wide range of larger issues and themes. That's what "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" does, exceptionally well, using the kidnapping of a six-year-old Jewish child by the Catholic Church in 1858 as the launching pad to delve into subjects including the persecution of Jews in the 19th century, the political role and power of the Catholic Church, and the Risorgimento and the unification of Italy. The c ...more
Diana Sandberg
May 09, 2012 Diana Sandberg rated it really liked it
Excellent work of history, illuminating one of those inexplicably dim corners wherein something significant happened but the subsequent world seems to have forgotten. It tied in rather interestingly with the reading of Les Miserables, though the events were a few years later. The book describes the events of 1858 and subsequently, when a 6-year-old Jewish boy was forcibly taken from his family in Bologna, then part of the Papal States, and given over to be reared by monks. The reason given was t ...more
Apr 18, 2013 Carole rated it it was amazing
Insightful and authentic
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, by David Ketzer, is the true account of a six-year-old Italian Jewish boy, who in 1958 was forcibly taken from his home by order of the Catholic Grand Inquisitor. Edgardo had (allegedly) been secretly baptized several years previously by an ignorant servant, who believed he was dying. Because the baptism rendered him a Christian by Canon law, the Catholic authorities took him so that he would not be brought up in a Jewish home. According
Oct 31, 2011 ☯Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a fascinating study of an Italian incident in 1858 that helped to change the face of Europe. Edgardo was a six-year Jewish boy who was taken away from his parents by Papal forces because a claim that he had been baptized by a Catholic. The Catholic church had been doing this for centuries because of their belief that "baptism" made a person a Catholic and that person could not remain in a Jewish home. This time, however, the kidnapping made headlines around the world. There was tremendou ...more
Aug 27, 2007 Alice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2007
This book is absolutely fantastic. It's history, but it reads like a thrilling novel, and it's incredibly well written.

The book centers around the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a 6 year old Jewish boy believed to have been secretly baptized by a Catholic servant. Acting under the authority of the Office of the Inquisition, policemen seized the boy from his parents' home and deposited him in the House of the Catuchumens to be raised as a Catholic. Through this single historical event (and the u
Dec 31, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating, thoroughly researched book about the kidnapping of a Jewish boy by the Catholic Church in Bologna, Italy in 1858. Six-year-old Edgardo Mortara was taken from his home by officers of the Inquisition on the pretext that he had been secretly baptized by a household servant years before. In the eyes of the church, this boy had was a Catholic and could not be raised by Jewish parents. For the next 15 years his parents fought to regain their son. Jews around the world became int ...more
Rafael da Silva
Um fascinante relato de uma fascinante história. A história do sequestro do menino Edgardo poderia ser uma história banal de sequestro, se não fosse um sequestro feito pelo Papa. Alguém ser sequestrado por ter sido batizado à força pode parecer obra de ficção, mas infelizmente vários judeus foram batizados à força e obrigados a seguirem a doutrina católica. Fato esse que ocorreu até o século XIX. Como apontado pelo autor, a Inquisição existiu até o século XX.

A história de um menino que era filho
Jan 20, 2016 Jan rated it really liked it
Excellent. Agree with other reviewers that this is 'proper history' and in constructing a thorough and fair examination, Kertzer goes over familiar ground more than once (for example, Felletti's trial is largely a rerun of the Mortara's own investigations). But well worth persevering with for a wonderful snapshot of some epoch making events, as well as a strong overarching narrative of the Church's treatment of Jews throughout the ages.
Oct 28, 2013 Jim rated it it was amazing
Sadly, my background in European history is quite deficient, so much of what was in this book I had to reread a couple of times. Even still, this is a really engrossing book; extremely well written, deftly organized, and very readable even to folks like me who have little grounding in European history (especially Italian history).

It's a sad story of a little Jewish boy (Edgardo Mortara) taken from his parents by the Catholic church because the child had supposedly been baptized by the family's C
Martha Alami
Aug 21, 2015 Martha Alami rated it liked it
I found this to be an interesting story of a little known event. With all the detail it included, I found it easier to read than I thought it would be. However, in my opinion the author attributes too much importance to the kidnapping. I understand the influential persons involved in using the event, but not sure I agree it drove the events as much as the author portrays. Still I found the book informative especially in the information on church policy and rule during the 1800s.
Apr 11, 2014 Ross rated it really liked it
This is a gripping story that is based on an amazing amount of research. It's also a very sad and tragic tale. (I can't quite see how it will be made into a satisfying movie.) There are many challenges to telling this story, and the "set up" chapters are kind of slow going. But then the story picks up and becomes almost impossible to put down.
Judy Shaughnessy
Feb 16, 2016 Judy Shaughnessy rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Giacomo Bongiovanni
May 13, 2014 Giacomo Bongiovanni rated it it was amazing
An excellent history book on the downfall of the Papal States and all of nobility. I had to keep reminding myself this was 1858 or so. Not that long ago. If you are interested in history and that era, by all means read and enjoy this book.
Oct 07, 2014 Helen rated it liked it
Fascinating true story of the 1858 abduction of a six-yr-old Jewish child by the Catholic church, "justified" by an illegal "baptism" of the child by his nanny. The history is well written and extremely detail oriented.
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“O abade expressou outro temor a respeito do dano potencial à Igreja Católica em consequência da posição por ela adotada no caso Mortara. Se a Igreja reivindicava o direito de capturar crianças judias nas terras sob seu governo, não estaria encorajando aqueles estados em que outras religiões eram dominantes a usar a força para converter seus próprios cidadãos católicos? O que aconteceria aos católicos que viviam nos países muçulmanos, ou entre os "cismáticos" na Grécia, ou entre os luteranos na Suíça?” 0 likes
“Em 9 de junho de 1958, menos de duas semanas antes, um membro do parlamento piemontês, isto é, o parlamento presidido por Cavour e que se reportava ao rei Victor Emmanuel II, levantou-se para falar. "Em Módena", disse ele aos seus colegas deputados, "têm ocorrido muitos casos de crianças judias serem batizadas devido a uma vingança, ou por estupidez ou devido ao fanatismo de algum empregado. Se estas ações extralegais não tivessem outra consequência a não ser de um pouco de água espargida por alguém que não deveria fazê-lo, elas teriam pouca importância." Contudo, o caso infelizmente não era esse, disse ele, pois bastava aquela aspersão de água pela mão de uma empregada para que um esquadrão da polícia fosse enviado para invadir um lar e tirar a criança de sua família, para que ela pudesse ser educada como católica. Aquilo era, trovejou ele, "o maior ultraje contra os sentimentos puros da natureza, contrário às regras mais elementares de moralidade, produzindo a mais infame opressão imaginável". Diante dessas palavras, ergueram-se murmúrios de protesto dos bancos à direita, onde ficavam os membros conservadores do parlamento, defensores da Igreja.

O deputado olhou para eles e prosseguiu: "Para poupar meus adversários de mais esforços, quero dizer desde já que fui informado de tudo isso por meus amigos judeus em Módena, que forneceram toda a documentação relevante". De fato, disse ele, "há hoje em Turim uma família judia que precisou fugir de Módena com sua filha, por medo que ela lhes fosse tirada porque uma jovem empregada afirmou tê-la batizado."

O deputado concluiu patrioticamente: "Falei disto como uma questão de consciência. Falei porque tal ultraje contra as leis da natureza e da moralidade deve ser, neste século XIX, no mínimo estigmatizado no único parlamento italiano, no único lugar da Itália que, graças aos esforços do povo e à lealdade do governante, ainda é livre." Ao descer do pódio, ele recebeu saudações de "bravo" dos deputados à sua esquerda e insultos e resmungos daqueles à sua direita.”
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