Kidnapped : Child Abduction in America

3.57 (21 ratings by Goodreads)
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Few crimes capture our imagination as completely as child kidnapping. We are both fascinated and revolted, seeing in each victim our own child, in each bereaved parent ourselves, and in each kidnapper a monster striking straight at the heart of the family and our society. Kidnapping is a modern morality play, the innocence of the child in stark contrast to the corruption the criminal, all played out by a media industry eager to feed the worst fears of every parent. In this pathbreaking book, Paula S. Fass explores how our fear has evolved from its first horrible realization in 1874, when Americans were startled and horrified to discover that their children could be held for ransom, until today, when sexual predators seem to threaten our children at every turn. Kidnapped is a mesmerizing look at some of the great kidnapping cases in American history, the stories that have haunted parents over the past 125 years. Fass describes the kidnapping of Charley Ross in 1874, the first of a series of kidnappings to be called "the crime of the century"; the notorious case of Leopold and Loeb, two rich young men who murdered a younger cousin simply to see if they could get away with it; the abduction of Gloria Vanderbilt, the "poor little rich girl" taken by her own aunt in the middle of a vicious custody battle; and the most famous case of all, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. More importantly, Kidnapped presents, in a series of brilliant narratives, a window into the American mind, providing us with new insights into parenting and the American family, the media and our fascination with celebrity, policing and law enforcement, gender and sexuality, mental health, and much more. She shows, for instance, how the Leopold and Loeb case revolutionized the insanity plea, how the abduction of Gloria Vanderbilt brought the problems of divorce and child custody into the public eye, and how each of the crimes, from Charley Ross to the Lindbergh baby, were defined and shaped by the ever-present media. Turning from these historic cases, she takes us back to crimes that have only recently fallen out of the headlines, such as the disappearance of Etan Patz in New York or Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota, and the growing industry revolving around missing children, from not-for-profit foundations publicizing missing children to for-profit businesses offering to insure children against kidnapping. In this sharp, vivid book, Fass skillfully illuminates our national obsession with child abduction in a society which both values and exploits its youngest members. The loss of each child is a unique and devastating tragedy. But how we respond as a community and as a nation to these crimes speaks volumes about who we are. In confronting how we have treated the children stolen from our lives, Fass shows, we confront ourselves.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 356 pages
  • 160 x 236.2 x 33mm | 657.72g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • 1, black & white illustrations
  • 0195117093
  • 9780195117097
  • 2,110,691

Review quote

"A rare combination of riveting narrative and acute, provocative historical and cultural analysis."--Sissela Bok, Harvard University

"Through incisive analysis of historical and contemporary cases, Fass highlights changes in social awareness and public response to kidnapping since its emergence into public consciousness at the time of the first known U.S. child ransom abduction in 1874...Fass has written extensively on issues of youth and culture and challenges those concerned with child welfare to examine the commercial portrayal of childhood, which sanctifies vulnerability and at the same time exploits it."--Booklist

"More than a retelling of some of the most famous kidnapping cases of the past 120 years, [Kidnapped] places the crimes in an historical context, showing how each mirrors the social concerns of the times and, as a result, becomes a portrait of parental anxiety."--Susan May, California Monthly

"In her riveting Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America, ...Fass gives us a tour of the crime parents fear most, offering one terrifying detail after another. But Fass...provides more than a detailed guide to the horrors of child abduction. Her task here is to plot the way this crime has evolved and to look closely at how we as a society choose to regard it."--Penelope Rowlands, San Franciso Chronicle

"This is a very scary book, and very important as the fear of this crime seems to escalate. In the end, Fass speaks as much from her heart as her head."--Jane Clifford, San Diego Union-Tribune

"A heartfelt and disturbing book...Kidnapped is not only a convincing analysis of child abduction; it is a compelling example of how studies of the past can illuminate the present and suggest alternative futures."--The Journal of American History
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About Paula S. Fass

Paula S. Fass has written extensively on issues of childhood and youth, culture and society, including The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth and the 1920s (OUP, 1979) and Outside in: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education (OUP, 1989). She is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Rating details

21 ratings
3.57 out of 5 stars
5 29% (6)
4 24% (5)
3 29% (6)
2 14% (3)
1 5% (1)
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