The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise

The Italian Boy

"A work of great skill and sympathy, a meditation on one of the sorrowful mysteries once to be found on the streets of London. For any student of the city and its secret life, it is indispensable reading." -Peter Ackroyd, The Times (London)Before his murder in 1831, the "Italian boy" was one of thousands of orphans on the streets of London, begging among the livestock, hawkers, and con men. When his body was sold to a medical college, the supplie...

Details The Italian Boy

TitleThe Italian Boy
Release DateMay 1st, 2005
PublisherHolt Paperbacks
GenreHistory, Crime, True Crime, Nonfiction, Mystery, Historical, European Literature, British Literature

Reviews The Italian Boy

  • Kirsten
    A fascinating tale from the brutal Victorian age. We may think of steampunk and coming out balls, but for the average person it was dirty and brutal. A day before sewers, health and safety regulations, and food preservation. It was at the very cusp of what we would call a police force, and it was still going through its growing pains. There were no appeals courts and children were sent out to help earn a living for their family.THE ITALIAN BOY is...
  • MAP
    Unfortunately, what this book most reminded me of was Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which I gave one star because it was 20% about what it claimed to be about and 80% about everything else. This book has a similar ratio -- 20% murder mystery, 80% 1830s London bla bla bla.Look, I understand that when you write a book like this, you need to give some historical background to get a sense of the zeitgeist in whi...
  • Ann
    Fascinating history of one of the famous murder cases in 1830's London which lead to changes in the laws with regard to "body snatching". In the era of Charles Dicken's, London was teaming with poverty, with real life child slavery gangs run by "Fagin" type characters. Under the new Vagrancy Act, poverty was literally a crime. Constables were often in the pay of the wealthy who didn't want to be confronted with small children and impoverished peo...
  • Lisa
    I think the title of this book is somewhat misleading. At the very least, it should be renamed something along the lines of, 'The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching, the study of Anatomy and the Acquisition of Bodies by Surgeons, the Workings of the Justice System, the Living Conditions of the Poor, and the Social Injustices in 1830s London, and much, much more."Author Sarah Wise attempts to cover all these subjects. She does not li...
  • Katherine Addison
    This book is amazing. It sets out to do several things, and it does all of them elegantly and in meticulous detail, which is not a common combination.The central focus of the book is the trial of John Bishop, Thomas Williams (aka Thomas Head and a whole host of other names), and James May for "burking" a vagrant boy. "Burking," from William Burke, means to murder someone for the value of their corpse, specifically in order to sell them to an anat...
  • Meaghan
    This book is a sensational piece of history which acts as a window into the 1800s, and the often dismal lives of the London underclass. It's a perfect blend of details from the lives of the body-snatchers, and a broad overview of corpse-snatching in general. I highly recommend.(UPDATE: My good friend the Headsman wrote an excellent blog entry about this case, including an interview with The Italian Boy's author.)
  • Margaret
    An interesting book about 'burking' in London.Well written and interesting, but it did drag out a little. I think the author was attempting to get maximum millage our of minimum material.3.5 stars rounded up to 4 .
  • Bob Schnell
    Even in the criminal underground of 19th century London, grave-robbers were shunned and despised, but tolerated if they were buying the drinks. Apparently, many "resurrectionists" were heavy drinkers. But when grave-robbing turns to murder, even the tipplers couldn't turn a blind eye."The Italian Boy" by Sarah Wise covers a criminal case from the 1830's in which a team of body sellers were accused of killing a homeless waif and trying to sell his...
  • Marti
    If you are interested in crime and lowlife, you will find this saga of a group of London grave robbers compelling for the most part. Apparently, the "The Italian Boy" murder case was quite a cause celebre in London of the 1830s. It touched on a primal fear people had of ending up in a medical school dissecting class. It was so famous, there were many contemporary pop culture references to it (like in the novel Middlemarch, written later, but set ...
  • Susanne
    The beginning of this book establishes what an Italian boy beggar meant to the citizens of London at this time, which is good because it's not what one might expect. Impoverished Italian boys were seen as beautiful, cherubic innocents - almost a class apart from regular, English boy beggars. Which is one reason why this murder was so heavily covered by the press. The other reason is why the boy was murdered to begin with - to obtain his body for ...
  • Rachel
    I enjoyed the depth and detail of this book, particularly with respect to the lives of the desparately poor. However; I was somewhat unsatisfied with the discussion of the motives of criminals as well as Wise's constant digression in the details of other murders, possible participants, speculative identities, the workings of the meatmarkets, wealthy doctors, the differences between public and private medical schools, etc. Because Wise cuts such a...
  • Mara
    Don't get me wrong, I liked this book (I'm trying to combat grade inflation in my rating system)- it was the literary equivalent of Law & Order: 1830s London. I studied the history of science and medicine quite a bit in school, so that theme was of great interest to me. Same goes for the birth of crimonology and forensic science- though if you're going to read just one narrative non-fiction with that in mind then I'd go for The Killer of Little S...
  • Jan C
    Very informative. All about the resurrection men. And three who got caught. They were burkers (given a new name for resurrection men from one who got caught in Scotland). Very detail-oriented. Last night I was looking at some of the footnotes I hadn't bothered with while I was reading and they are very informative. For the most part, they are not the type where they are just giving a book citation but actually filling out the text with extra info...
  • Dianne
    A fascinating insight into the lives of the Victorian 'under-class', the courts, and the Medical Establishment of London in 1830-31, as the newly formed police investigate the crimes at Number 3, Nova Scotia Gardens in East London. The notorious Burke and Hare body snatching cases in Edinburgh had introduced new words into the English vocabulary, to Burke, burking and Burkers. The London body snatchers turned to burking (murder)in the search for ...
  • Edward Sullivan
    A wonderfully atmospheric look at the body-snatching "resurrection" trade in early Victorian London with a sensational crime of the time at the center. Wise's fascinating narrative also offers a vivid look at poverty and the criminal underground in 1830s London, Victorian attitudes toward morality, the intricacies of the justice system, and great changes occurring in law enforcement, crime detection, and medicine at the time.
  • Tomi
    Thoroughly enjoyed this book! It is more than jut the story of the mysterious death of a young Italian street boy in London in the 1830s. It is also a great look at the resurrection trade, the underworld of London, and the attempts by the British government to improve city conditions. The illustrations helped me see London in that time. It read like fiction; the only complaint I have was that the chapters after the trial were slightly confusing.
  • Jo
    Wise explores 19th century London through the 1831 case of the 'London Burkers', two men who supplemented their grave robbing income by creating their own corpses. With the case of the Italian boy at the core of the book, we are introduced to various characters in the world of the Resurrectionists and the surgeons they supply the bodies too. Expertly told and interesting enough to hold one's attention right to the end.
  • Scott
    Utterly fascinating. Oddly, I found myself less interested in the central narrative of the book--the murder, the hunt, the trial, and the execution of the resurrectionists--than I was in Wise's depiction of the context in which all of this took place.
  • Connie Scott
    This a very intense and hart breaking read. The abuses and injustices that occurred are so sad. Wise really pulls you into that moment in history and lays it out for the cold, hard truth that it was.Excellent piece of work.
  • Alice
    Great topic but my interest wasn't held all the way through and it did drag a bit.
  • Lynne
    GRUESOME! I skipped a whole chapter on rotting meat.
  • Vince
    Good recreation of 1830's era London, but the main narrative of the boy's murder by so-called "resurrectionists" dragged...and dragged...and dragged.
  • Moloch
    Dopo Vanity Fair , non riesco a "schiodarmi" dalla Londra di inizio '800! A dire il vero, dopo quel mattone (piacevolissimo, ma pur sempre un mattone!), non mi sarebbe dispiaciuto leggere qualcosa di leggero, breve e in italiano, ma non ho trovato nulla di "adatto" (pur avendo casa piena di libri! Ma se per un certo titolo non è arrivato il "momento giusto", non c'è nulla da fare), perciò, fedele al proposito di leggere anche qualche saggio, ...
  • Lu
    Starving immigrants fleeing wars, abandoned children sold into servitude , or unwed women shunned by "respectable " people have become rootless and they flood into the dehumanizing city. The industrial revolution has reshuffled the old agrarian social structure. These unwanted unfortunates are shuttled from parish to parish. Their value is only increased in death when the carcass is sold to anatomy students. Sometimes those deaths are accelerated...
  • Peter
    The definitive work on the Italian Boy murder committed by Bishop and Williams. You read all about the background, e.g. area, bodysnatcher pubs, Italian immigrants, vagrants, law situation and then you learn every detail how bodysnatching went in London (who bought the corpses, who needed them and most important who provided them. So many incredible and disgusting details you won't believe it. In the end you hear everything about the trial on the...
  • Angela
    This book could have been written in about 150 pages instead of 300+. The Chapter about Smithfield Meat Market, in the middle of the book, was completely unnecessary. The author tells you at the beginning about her difficulties with researching this book. That definitely shows through. This story was not without interest, but the author could have told it without so much meandering.
  • Shelly
    This book seemed to be more about the history of London and less about a murder. So much of the book had little or nothing to do with the murder of the Italian Boy and I constantly wondered how it was going to tie in. I tried so very hard to enjoy this book but it was so diluted that at one point I forgot the purpose of the book and wondered why I purchased it to begin with.
  • Peggy
    I found this one slow-going, and feel like it might have been better as a much-shortened chapter in a larger collection of Victorian crime non-fiction. I get that the crime needed to be put into context, but the ratio of context to actual story of the crime and its aftermath is skewed way too heavily to context -- and a lot of unnecessary context at that.
  • Jonathan
    This book was all over the place. One second it was interesting murder mystery then the next minute....squirrel!
  • Russ Choma
    Absolutely fascinating...