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

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

Tom Sancton. Dutton, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-18380-9

The decadence of Europe’s 20th-century upper crust is on full display in this colorful account of the 1978 kidnapping of Baron Édouard-Jean Empain, the head of an industrial empire founded by his grandfather. Drawing on interviews with Alain Caillol, the kidnappers’ ringleader, journalist Sancton (The Bettencourt Affair) recounts how Empain was abducted by a motley group of criminals on his way to work after a late night of gambling, hidden in the abandoned tunnels of a stone quarry, and had his left pinkie finger amputated and sent to his family as proof that he had been kidnapped. Though the ransom demand of 80 million francs (equivalent to $70 million today) was never paid, Empain was released after 63 days in captivity. Media coverage of the kidnapping had revealed his gambling and extramarital affairs, however, and ruined his reputation both inside and outside the Empain-Schneider group. Sancton also delves into the company’s role in the creation of the Paris Métro and the exploitation of the Congo, and recounts the sordid stories of Empain’s playboy father, an alleged Nazi collaborator, and his American mother, a former exotic dancer. Though somewhat niche, this is a doggedly reported and briskly entertaining history. Agent: Katherine Flynn, Kneerim & Williams Literary. (Apr.)