Bookmarks Issue: 

The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst

A-The Uncrowned KingKenneth Whyte, the editor in chief of Canada’s Maclean’s and the founder of the National Post, offers an intriguing glimpse into William Randolph Hearst’s early years.

The Topic: History depicts William Randolph Hearst as a ruthless, controversial newspaperman. Kenneth Whyte reworks the record in The Uncrowned King, which focuses on Hearst’s early career between 1895—when he purchased the small New York Journal—and 1898, when he had transformed the newspaper world into an agent of reform and wide readership and owned a media conglomerate that included rival Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. A few stories from these years stand out: Hearst’s developing his brand of "yellow journalism," his influence in the 1896 presidential election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley, and his legendary (though, according to Whyte, much exaggerated) role in inciting the Spanish-American War. In Whyte’s hands, Hearst comes off as a responsible journalist—and a brilliant, pioneering entrepreneur with a genuine social conscience.
Counterpoint. 512 pages. $30. ISBN: 1582434670

Globe and Mail (Toronto) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Suddenly, surprisingly, spectacularly, there appears a breathtaking new masterwork in U.S. history and in the history of U.S. journalism, a tale rooted in San Francisco, New York and Havana, a story through which stride such purely American figures as Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Theodore Roosevelt. … The Uncrowned King is one of the most remarkable and captivating biographies of an American written this year in any country, including my own." David Shribman

Vancouver Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"The Uncrowned King, a vivid and entertaining new biography … is remarkable for its spirited, knowledgeable, well-researched and convincing defence of young Hearst’s journalism. Whyte packs it with delicious details such as the birth of colour comics." Brian Kappler

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Whyte’s focus is set clearly on Hearst, but the author devotes a lot of space to the Hearst’s two major competitors: Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, and Charles A. Dana, editor and part-owner of the New York Sun. This is only fair: Though he would embellish their journalism philosophies, Hearst was very much a student of those Park Row legends." Yoni Goldstein

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hearst may have been an enthusiastic, even reckless war lover, but, Whyte writes, he did not and could not have caused armed intervention in Cuba. … Occasionally, [Whyte] falls into a ‘gotcha’ mode, triumphantly correcting assertions by prior biographers that seem less than consequential." Jack Rosenthal

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Whyte is forthright, in some cases even rash, in challenging other historians’ accounts of the life of this very large man. Whyte has done his homework, and rests his views on the perusal of many primary sources. His detailed description of how Hearst built news stories to attract readership makes the book worth reading." Richard M. Abrams

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"After soaking his brain in all that ink and newsprint, our modern defender of Hearst emerges an admirer. Hearst’s journalism had enterprise, brashness, purpose and humanity. These qualities were real, and, Whyte suggests, today’s newspapers should have more of them." Bruce Ramsey

Critical Summary

This work is not only a captivating biography of William Randolph Hearst but also a biography of the key figures in the press during that time and a history of U.S. journalism. Entertaining and well researched, Uncrowned King pleased the critics. Although the volume doesn’t offer much in the way of new information—other revisionist biographies like David Nasaw’s The Chief (2000) also debunk Hearst’s sensationalist war in Cuba—Whyte buttresses his claims with solid, colorful research. Some readers may take issue with Whyte’s sympathetic and admiring tone, but the author overlooks none of Hearst’s flaws. Indeed, critics noted that one of the major flaws seemed to be that the book ended just after the Spanish-American War—and far too soon.