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The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  227 ratings  ·  35 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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Nancy Oakes
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
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
Christian Engler
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Giacomo Bongiovanni
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.
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.
Paula Korelitz
I have to admit skimming through parts of this - a bit too much historical data for me. However, this is a fascinating story and the efforts of the family and community were amazing.
It's a very lively read for such dense history, but it's a sad story. I would have preferred to know what Edgardo was doing during all those years without having to wait until the end of the book, and I got the sense that I might learn more by reading someone else's book on the subject. Kertzer's constant use of direct articles irked me. It's one thing to say Jews did something, or even to quote antisemitic characters who say things about "The Jews" but I wish writers would stop using that phras ...more
Probably closer to a 3.5. This was a really interesting history, but it is so jam-packed with info that it is a slow dense read. I found myself reading a chapter or two a day then putting it down. This follows the story of the decline of Vatican power in Italy, connecting it to the international incident caused by the Church kidnapping a secretly baptized Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. The only reason why it doesn't get a 4 is that Kertzer sometimes lets the historical facts impend on the narrativ ...more
As history books goe, Mr. Kertzer is an exceptionally good writer, with lots of easy to read dramatic interest. Most historic writers can't write in a style that is so flowing, but this writer can do it. A great source of information of Jews and Christians in the 18th through early 19th Century Italy, as told through the story of one boy and his abduction by the then Pope.
Very interesting but a little too detail oriented... i.e. probably best for someone who wants to write about 19 centuary Italian Nationalism / European history. I actually could only read the first three chapters b/c I was getting overwhelmed with details and the story doesn't really move (try to get kidnapped boy out of church, fail; try another avenue, fail; etc).

Noah Dropkin
Oct 20, 2008 Noah Dropkin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Noah by: Robert Greenfield
Very interesting story showing the relationship between the decline in power of the papal states (and ultimately the unification of Italy) and the church's handling of the abduction of Edgardo Mortara.

About 2/3 through the book it became a bit dull but once through the drier church history parts around page 200 or so, it picked back up.
A gripping drama that is not historical fiction, but really happened. And who knew that the inquisition was alive and well in Italy a mere 150 years ago? I couldn't put the book down and felt like I got a huge lesson in European history by the end.
Very interesting story about the Pope (IX) during 1858-1860 and how the kidnapping of a Jewish boy who was proclaimed to be Catholic after a servant of the family baptised him at an early age changed the course of history in Italy and aroound the world.
Fascinating...Non fiction...A very little known period in history, very well researched and written by a social anthropologist with a personal interest in Italian/European history... must read to the end.
Dec 20, 2007 Monta rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History Buffs
This book was amazing! One of the most memorable I've ever read. It's about the time period in history where the Vatican/Pope began to decline in political power. Definitely a must-read for history buffs.
Apr 04, 2014 Janet added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Chapter 1 quite engrossing, Chapter 2 not so interesting, Chapter 3 and 4, so far good... we will see.
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