The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst.


560 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-679-31343-4
DDC 070.5'722092




Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


In 1897 William Thomas Stead wrote that “of all the editors then working in Europe and North America, none was more likely that Hearst to rise to the position of ‘uncrowned king of an educated democracy.’”


In contrast, contemporary observers such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman excoriated Hearst for practising “yellow journalism,” a term named after the Yellow Kid, a character in the New York Journal’s colour comic strip “Hogan’s Alley,” that implied his newspaper routinely invented stories, faked interviews, and ran phony photos all with a view to stirring up its readership to buy papers and support causes espoused by Hearst, especially war against Spain.


Historically, the latter view has prevailed in most interpretations of Hearst’s career, and therefore it is one of the strengths of Whyte’s book that he is more nuanced. Whyte, a journalist himself, got interested in Hearst as he was preparing to assume the editorship of the National Post since he wanted “to explore the factors underlying the success of editors who were proficient in the almost forgotten arts of attracting and building circulation against established competition.” Relying on contemporary newspapers and other sources, as well as archival papers of the principals, supplemented by an extensive bibliography of secondary literature, Whyte has given us a well-written, fast-paced overview of Hearst’s early career.


The author is not naive—he acknowledges that family wealth made it possible for Hearst to hire and pay the best—and he also acknowledges that behind the press lord was a politician manqué, a man like Sylvio Berlusconi who knew that a powerful press could shape opinion in his own favour.


If there is one drawback to this book it is that occasionally Whyte loses his focus on Hearst—his interest in finding out what makes a paper successful leads him to lengthy discussions about his competitors, most especially Joseph Pulitzer, with lots of side trips about the exploits of individual journalists who worked both for Hearst and Pulitzer. That all said, he succeeds in making his case that Hearst was a serious journalist whom history should also take seriously.


Whyte, Kenneth., “The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,