My interests in the late colonial and revolutionary periods include print culture and history of the book. Ever since I was an undergraduate and first accessed a Readex database, I have been fascinated with colonial newspapers and not just the content but with the mechanics, logistics, and persons involved. Every major research project I have undertaken has made significant use of newspapers and pamphlets. In that time, I have come to understand and appreciate the centrality and importance of newspapers to colonial life, particularly in but not limited to urban areas. Indeed, I have always felt quite privileged to have access to such primary sources and perhaps it is part of the standard vanity of the historian but I also always suspected that general readers—the kind who buy books about the Revolution by the truckload—would be just as interested in seeing and just as excited by these primary sources as I continue to be. Todd Andrlik thought the same thing and his book, Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before it was History, it was News, appears to have proven me right.
Andrlik is an eighteenth-century newspaper collector and enthusiast and founder/co-founder of two websites, Rag Linen and the Journal of the American Revolution. Published by Sourcebooks, he has reproduced hundreds of colonial and revolutionary newspapers through which the book tells the story of the Revolution as experienced secondhand by colonists themselves. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book, aside from its content, is the literally stunning design. Full-color reproductions of newspapers from throughout the colonies chronicling almost every major event of both the coming of the Revolution and the war itself adorn almost every page. To help put the newspapers in context, Andrlik enlisted a number of scholars, many highly respected academics, to write brief introductory essays to each major event. They are succinct and highly useful to a general reader.
Andrlik recently went on a promotional tour throughout the country, which included an appearance on CNN with Soledad O’Brien. Andrlik could not have hoped for a better reception. Within a few weeks of its release back in November, it was Amazon’s bestselling book on the Revolution. It was also just awarded the annual prize for best book on the Revolution by the The New York Revolutionary War Round Table (former winners include Mary Beth Norton, Ben Carp, and Maya Jasanoff). The reviews on Amazon from general readers confirmed my own (and Andrlik’s) suspicions that the reading public would be interested in these primary sources. From the perspective of an historian, I find this highly encouraging. With the inclusion of London newspapers and no political agenda in selection whatsoever, general readers will get a glimpse of what it means to be an historian as they try to interpret these sources for themselves. Of course, there are accounts of the more glorious moments of the war but there are also accounts of the more violent aspects of the imperial resistance of the 1760s and 1770s, which are sure to make some readers reflect on their previous assumptions about patriots and their cause.
I have very much enjoyed every minute I have spent with the book, which being a graduate student is not as many I would have liked. In fact, the book is so visually impressive that even though I ended up paying just over $13 for it on B&N (whose exclusive edition comes with 4 wonderful full front-page pull-out reproductions), I nevertheless find myself treating it quite carefully (gingerly, even). I hate to end this review with such a well-worn cliché but this book truly does make a near-perfect gift for any friend or family member that is interested in the Revolution or even just history in general.
Michael D. Hattem is a PhD student at Yale University.