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The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London Paperback – 5 May 2005


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Frequently Bought Together

The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London + The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum + Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England
Price For All Three: £29.57

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (5 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844133303
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844133307
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Extra stories, pictures and further exploration of the subjects of each of her three books are available to read at www.sarahwise.co.uk

A short (16-minute) documentary film about The Italian Boy, filmed in June 2014, can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Oe2boQ3nlg

You can hear her speaking about Inconvenient People at:
* The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist talk at Wilton's Music Hall, Sunday 27 April 2014 http://vimeo.com/93406035

* The Guardian newspaper
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2012/nov/02/hospital-keneally-wise-magnanti-podcast

* The BBC's Radio 4 'All in the Mind' programme
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p011h15t

Her talk about the Old Nichol slum as an inspiration for Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago, given on 1 April 2014, can be heard here http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/audios.aspx?vid=9123

A podcast of her talk about Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, at the Museum of London, can be heard at www.sarahwise.co.uk/podcasts.html

And an interview with BBC History Magazine about The Blackest Streets is at http://www.sarahwise.co.uk/Podcasts/BBC_History_Jan09_Pt1.mp3

Read her blog on 19th-century mental health at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/sarah-wise

Sarah Wise grew up in West London and went to school in Wood Lane, White City. After graduation in English Literature, she worked as a freelance writer, mostly for arts, architecture and design titles, including the Guardian arts desk and Space magazine -- the Guardian's design and architecture supplement.

A Master's degree in Victorian Studies from the University of London led to the writing of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (2004) and The Blackest Streets (2008).
The former won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The latter was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for evocation of a location/landscape.

Her third book, Inconvenient People, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Book Prize and was a book of the year in the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian and Spectator.

Product Description

Review

"Colourful without being sensationalist, the result is compelling" (Andrew Holgate Sunday Times)

"Brilliant" (Christopher Hirst Independent)

"Excellent...an impressively strong sense of 19th-century poverty seems to ooze from its pages and the details are fascinating" (Toby Clements Daily Telegraph)

"Engrossing...Wise exposes an entire "resurrection community" in London's underworld and shows how "The Italian Boy case" captured the public imagination" (Ian Pindar Guardian)

"A work of great skill and sympathy" (Peter Ackroyd The Times)

Book Description

A fascinating historical investigation that brilliantly illuminates a macabre episode in 1830s London and brings the capital's underclass roaring back to life.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Sarah Wise has written a well reseached account of the arrest and trial of a gang of London body snatchers who took to providing their own fresh bodies by murdering them. The story of their activities is interspersed with sections on a whole range of subjects relating in particular to the urban poor from which both the killers and their victims came. There is also an insight into the geography of London in the early 1830's and although many of the locations have their modern equivilent the character of them is frequently very different. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in pre-Victorian London, crime and punishment or the New Police.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Pelican on 13 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A well-written history of Regency London low-life.Centering on the gruesome history of the grave-robbers supplying London's medical schools- some of whom found it more convenient to hasten the demise of the subject and not bother with that tiresome disinterment- the author in turn examines aspects of Regency London- drink, the legal system, architecture and public works, cruelty to animals- it's all there in a fascinating history of the London streets that we walk today.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Girth VINE VOICE on 13 Jun. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is my second reading of Sara Wise's excellent book. For several years, it has been a standard stocking filler present for my friends. Curiously, I am strongly adverse to the endless, voyeuristic, procession of books, movies and TV drama where gory murders are cleverly committed and habitually solved (in about 200 pages or 49 minutes plus commercial breaks). It is thematically tedious and depressing in equal measure. The Italian Boy is very much more than a good "who dunnit" although it reads like one. The cliché is correct, fact - well told - is stranger than fiction and much more interesting.

The book is rooted in the slums of 1830s London, where body snatchers decided it was worth murdering to meet the needs of medical science. Wise systematically inserts the factual details. Some 500 students required three bodies to dissect during their 16-month training. Not enough criminals were being hanged and donors were inadequate. Stealing freshly buried bodies was risky; even then, not enough to meet supply. At a guinea a corpse, the business was very lucrative. It occurred to some that many wretched people would not be missed. This is a very well structured book, not merely as a commentary on the poor in London but as a detailed insight into police methods, forensic science and the legal process. You sense what Newgate prison was like. Then there is the evolution of medical training, these surgeons did not have clean ethical hands. We are reminded of what is possibly better forgotten. This was a brutal world, arguably better to have been a slave picking cotton than an unskilled labourer in what was then the largest and richest city in the world. This book is not a lecture; it is an easily followed insight showing why much of Victorian London was a hellish place.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. M. Quinn on 13 April 2007
Format: Paperback
What makes this book marvelous is not just the excellent research about the subject matter - which, lets face it, is not one that many people are instinctively drawn to - but the fascinating asides and background detail that gives a truely fascinating insight into the lives of the inner city poor in 1830's London. It is always difficult for one to relate the value of money but juxtaposing taxi fares, price of meat, pints of gin (2d)wages of skilled artisans like carpenters and silk weavers with dead bodies (8-12 guineas although with peaks of around 20 guineas)one gets a picture of why these people did what they did.

The background detail of the new police and their rivalry with the Bow Street Runners; the limited aspirations for the police i.e. not expected to investigate crime or to mix with criminals in order to glean information was all new to me at least.

Similarly, the limitations of jurisprudence were surprising: how limited was the ability of defense lawyers to defend their clients they couldn't speak to the jury; there was no pre-trial disclosure of prosecution evidence; the accused could not take the stand - it was therefore perhaps not surprising that an average high court trial lasted 8 1/2 minutes probably with a very high rates of guilty verdicts - one wonders why the world was taught to look up to British justice, just how bad was it elsewhere? It seems strange that such a distasteful crime as grave robbing was only a misdemeanor whilst relatively low value thefts could be sanction by transportation for life or hanging - Sarah Wise explains that the general premise was based upon ownership (and its loss) - therefore begging the question of who owns a dead body and who has incurred a loss?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. C. Jolly on 2 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
What an excellent book. Thoughly researched with an indepth look at the social history of the time. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested not only in resurrectionists but how ordinary people coped with life at a turbulent time in history.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Andrea Bowhill VINE VOICE on 20 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
The Italian boy was one of a thousand of orphans living on the London streets in 1831, amongst the poor in company of con artist, beggars and prostitutes. The Italian boy case would be remembered because a boy's dead body was sold to a London medical college and the suppliers of the body were caught and arrested for murder. When this high profile court case took place it was unravelled there was a London trade in human corpses. These men hid behind the complete chaos of a growing city. Choosing their prey amongst low lives whose bodies would never be missed. These Murderous thieves two in particular John Bishop and Thomas Williams were known to the City of London as the Body Snatchers (The London Burkers) a third was arrested soon after James May, they killed to satisfy their market demand. All three was charged with the murder of Carlo Ferrari. Words spoken in court at the Old Bailey, "The fresher the body the higher the price". Demand was coming from Doctors looking to make a break through in science of the human anatomy fresh dissection was needed.

Sarah Wise the author has weaved a story with historical events using the Investigation into the case of the London Burkers following the trail itself of 1831. Reconstructing the story in her own words looking at the lives of lower-class Londoners, with a vivid description of London with all its sight's and smells bringing life to a city and the characters who were corpse trafficking. Ms Wise follows through the trail, which ended with the controversial legislation (Anatomy Bill passed in 1832) which marked the beginning of the end to body-snatching in Britain. Sarah Wise is an historian of Victorian England. This book had me gripped in its pages with fantastic history, descriptions can be gruesome but all woven into a great piece of storytelling.

Andrea Bowhill
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