The Last Baron: The Paris Kidnapping That Brought Down an Empire

Dutton. Apr. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780593183809. $28. HIST
Sancton (humanities, Tulane Univ.; The Bettencourt Affair) has written an engaging, in-depth look at the kidnapping of Baron Édouard-Jean “Wado” Empain, a Belgian American business leader who headed an international conglomerate of 174 companies with more than 130,000 employees and was kidnapped off the street in Paris in 1978. His kidnappers believed they would get a ransom of 80 million francs, and they cut off his little finger to demonstrate their ruthlessness, Sancton writes. But the kidnapping didn’t go as planned. This book gives a detailed look at how the kidnapping unfolded and the French police’s search for the missing Baron Empain. Sancton also delves into the lives of the Empain family, including the baron’s grandfather, the founder of the family dynasty. The Empain case is contextualized by accounts of the French government’s reaction, of the political and social climate in 1970s France, and of kidnappings of other notable heirs (J. Paul Getty III; Patty Hearst) around the same time. An engrossing read about a multi-generational family dynasty and the lives they lived.
VERDICT This is an immensely readable, impeccably written, and thoroughly researched tale of a kidnapping gone wrong. Ideal for readers who enjoy biography, social, political, and cultural history.
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