Microhistorian Kertzer extracts every known fact to illuminate this sad case as a footnote to Italy’s wider social history.



History of a medical-malpractice lawsuit in Italy during the last decade of the 19th century.

The foundling home of Bologna, as was common practice in those days, contracted with poor country women to nurse the city’s orphan bastardini. Amalia Bagnacavalli, an illiterate young mother from the hills of Vergato, was new to the trade of baby-farming in 1890, when she was given a sickly girl to suckle. The infant soon died, and Amalia promptly developed syphilis. Then her own child died, and her husband contracted the disease. This was not the first time, we learn, that an unwitting wet nurse had contracted syphilis from a foundling, many of whom were the abandoned offspring of diseased prostitutes. But this was also the time when modern Italy was being formed, writes Kertzer (Anthropology and Italian Studies/Brown Univ.; Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes’ Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State, 2004, etc). A new generation intended to seize power from the aristocratic old guard that had mismanaged places like the foundling home with little sense of accountability. Augusto Barbieri, an energetic lawyer from this reforming younger generation, was recommended to Amalia by an indignant doctor aware of the foundling home’s careless treatment of its wet nurses. They sued the home, its allied hospital and the medical staff. It was to be one of those signal cases that transform society. Repeatedly for a decade, the lawsuit was argued in local, appellate and supreme courts. Kertzer tracks the briefs and related documents, reconstructing the written and oral arguments in wearying proceedings about a dead baby and a woman who was grievously harmed, perhaps unwittingly, by the medical malpractice of her employer. The foundling home finally settled: Barbieri became rich and famous; Amalia remained in poverty all her life.

Microhistorian Kertzer extracts every known fact to illuminate this sad case as a footnote to Italy’s wider social history.

Pub Date: March 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-55106-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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