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

Towards the end of 1831, the authorities unearthed a series of crimes at Number 3, Nova Scotia Gardens in East London that appeared to echo the notorious Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh three years earlier. After a long investigation, three bodysnatchers were put on trial for supplying the anatomy schools of London with suspiciously fresh bodies for dissection.They later became known as The London Burkers, and their story was dubbed 'The Italian Boy' case. The furore which led directly to the passing of controversial legislation which marked the beginning of the end of body snatching in Britain.

In The Italian Boy, Sarah Wise not only investigates the case of the London Burkers but also, by making use of an incredibly rich archival store, the lives of ordinary lower-class Londoners. Here is a window on the lives of the poor - a window that is opaque in places, shattered in others but which provides an unprecedented view of low-life London in the 1830s.


Colourful without being sensationalist, the result is compelling

Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times


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

Written with flair and plentifully illustrated

Michel Faber, Guardian

A gruesome and gripping study

Mark Sanderson, Sunday Telegraph

Wise handles her sources with delicacy and rigour... she can take credit for the lease smug and self-congratulatory book ever written on 19th century slum life

Matthew Sweet, Sunday Times

This is a terrific piece of social history

Gilda O’Neill, Sunday Express

Wise has brilliantly reconstructed the social histories of the period...The Italian Boy is a lip-smacking, gruesome joy from beginning to end

Roger Clarke, Independent

Wise has brilliantly combined a scalp-tingler with a scholarly account...It is exceptionally well organised, rich in data and hard to put down

Edward Pearce, Glasgow Herald

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Formats & editions

  • EBook


    December 31, 2012

    Vintage Digital

    368 pages

    Online retailers

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  • The Italian Boy
    Sarah Wise



    July 1, 2005


    368 pages

    RRP $29.99

    Online retailers

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