The Judge and the Historian

The Judge and the Historian:Marginal Notes on a Late-Twentieth-Century Miscarriage of Justice

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Carlo Ginzburg draws on his work on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century witchcraft trials to dissect the weaknesses and contradictions of Italy’s case against Adriano Sofri, figurehead of the Italian Left, demonstrating the importance of intellectual rigor and passion against political opportunism and dishonesty at the end of the twentieth-century

A bomb, an anarchist’s ‘accidental death’, the murder of a police commissar, and the confession of a former member of Lotta Continua led to seven dubious court cases and a tale of political opportunism and dishonesty. Standing in the tradition of Emile Zola’s famous J’accuse polemic against the Dreyfus trial at the end of the nineteenth-century, the historian Carlo Ginzburg draws on his work on witchcraft trials in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries to dissect the weaknesses and contradictions of the state’s case in this late-twentieth-century political show-trial and reflects more generally on the similarities and differences between the roles of the historian and the judge.


  • In the tradition of Ginzburg’s work as a narrative historian, sculpting story-like shapes out of ancient and unexamined pasts, he offers the reader the evidence, giving the public the tools to examine this modern ongoing history.

  • In its brilliance and force, Ginzburg’s attack on magisterial malfeasance equals the war of Emile Zola one hundred years ago.

  • Italy’s foremost historian, Carlo Ginzburg—and the publication of his book—has rocked the foundations of the Italian legal system ... Ginzburg is the type of historian who revels in detective work ... he has sleuthed and deduced with tenacity and the finely tuned sensory apparatus of a bloodhound.

    Financial Times