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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars London's Burke and Hare, 1 Jun 2004
By A Customer
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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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top quality history, 13 Jun 2004
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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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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a good melodrama, excellent well told history, 13 Jun 2008
By 
Benjamin Girth "NI5 MCR" (Hampstead N6) - See all my reviews
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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.

While reading the book I bought the relevant Victorian Ordinance survey maps of London. It complemented the text; these maps are absorbing and as evocative as any Gustave Dore print. Many of the places, bricks and mortar, still stand. This book is a primer for further reading. Where Dickens presented colourful characters, Wise has the gagging odours of the Smithfield meat market coming to life. In passing the book also provides a good economic insight; the commercial life of London is well entrenched in the account.

What Wise has achieved is to produce an exceptionally good story based on detailed historical research. You could not have made it up, it would have read as a tawdry Victorian melodrama. It stands as a serious commentary on Victorian London. So many academics (and their publishers) - who seem to define the quality of their work by the size of their footnotes - should realise intellectual credibility is not risked by writing such competent narrative history.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all those interested in grave robbers, 13 April 2007
By 
A. M. Quinn "Reader" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (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?

The chapter about Smithfields and the animal meat market was equally (and curiously) fascinating - one rarely considers how the food industry worked in those days especially with the dramatic rise in urbanisation that was going on - walking cows from the highlands of Scotland to the London markets - the treatment of animals which were slowly becoming protected whilst humans had perhaps less legal protection.

The demise of grave robbing and 'Burking' as an attractive career choice for criminals came not from raising the penalty nor by criminalising the doctors who created the demand pull (they were gentlemean after all) but by freeing up the supply side - the unclaimed bodies of the workhouse poor were made available (despite fears that the doctors might still try to encourage the flow when they needed more bodies) and the rise of pestulence and plague that meant that there were many more bodies available.

This is a very stimulating book that I would heartedly recommend
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Italian Boy, 2 Feb 2006
By 
C. C. Jolly "c jolly" (Nocton, Lincolnshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Real Historical event reconstructed, London 1831 - The Story of the Italian Boy, 20 Aug 2006
By 
Andrea Bowhill (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great read, 10 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (Paperback)
Fantastic way to learn history and it gives a real sense of the times.
Well written and totally absorbing. Lovely
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and a great read for historical fans, 28 Jan 2013
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I was a little reluctant to try this book, but am so glad I have it a go. Well researched with lots of description about daily life. I would recommend to anyone interested in this era.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent read- review, 24 Dec 2012
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This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (Paperback)
love this book; an excellent read, would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good read, glad i bought it
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping!, 29 Mar 2005
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lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk) - See all my reviews
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I was gripped by this page turner of a book about murder and grave robbery in London. If you are interested in reading about crime and murder you will love this book.
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The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London
The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London by Sarah Wise (Paperback - 5 May 2005)
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