Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Before It Was History, It Was News

by Todd Andrlik

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4022-6967-7
Publisher: Sourcebooks

In his first book project, Andrlik, the curator and publisher of, an online archive of rare newspapers, presents an intriguing real-time look at the American Revolution.

To supply context and analysis, the author enlists a few dozen other Revolutionary War scholars—some, such as Bruce Chadwick, Ray Raphael and Thomas Fleming, will be well-known to war buffs—for essays and remarks elucidating the excerpts from 18th-century newspapers handsomely reproduced here. He reminds us “there are no photographs of the American Revolution,” that newspapers remain the closest thing we have to snapshots of the conflict as it developed. Focusing on the years 1763 to 1783 and drawing on publications from both sides of the Atlantic, this lavishly illustrated volume contains reporting on the war’s signal battles, Lexington and Concord to Yorktown, and many lesser engagements as well. It covers controversies over Parliament’s Sugar, Stamp, and Townsend Acts, reported from vastly different perspectives in, say, the Pennsylvania Gazette or the London Chronicle. In the 18th century, printers scrambled for information, often poaching private letters or plagiarizing each other for accounts of the Boston Tea Party, Benedict Arnold’s treason, the alliance between France and America, or Washington’s resignation of his commission. Andrlik artfully directs readers’ eyes to these and hundreds of other events reported on the page right next to advertisements for hogsheads of “Jamaica Spirit,” the sale of a wooden tenement, a plea for “200 barrels of pork,” or a notice about a “strayed or stolen” brown cow. As they accumulate, these pages charmingly return us to a troublesome time when average people were leading their lives as close to normal as they could manage, when our war for independence was breaking news, the outcome far from certain.

An impressive cache of primary-source documents, normally the province of scholars, presented here in an entertaining, aesthetically pleasing fashion guaranteed to entice general readers.