Review: War of Words by Simon Read

From the Stash is just my way to denote when something is from before I had the blog. I have been reviewing books since January 2010 so I’d like to showcase some of that past work.

6051755War of Words: A True Tale of Newsprint and Murder by Simon Read

Published: May 5th 2009 by Union Square Press
Hardcover from Goodreads’ giveaways
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 320 pages


When the news business was literally a matter of life and death. A real-life Barbary Coast, WAR OF WORDS details the bloody birth of the San Francisco Chronicle, when verbal blows traded between two of the town’s most powerful men escalated into violence on the streets of 1880s San Francisco. Gun-toting newspaper publisher Charles de Young won circulation wars by spilling ink that destroyed political candidates he didn’t like and Isaac Kalloch, a hellfire preacher whose lust for the ladies equaled his craving to be mayor, was an obvious target. First angry words flew, then bullets, when de Young ambushed Kalloch and shot him. Miraculously, Kalloch survived and won the election, only to see his son enact revenge on his behalf five months later by walking into the newsroom and fatally shooting de Young. The trial lasted 28 days, featured over 200 witnesses and made headlines coast to coast. The verdict? Not guilty, by reason of “justifiable homicide This sensational tale of sex, murder, and muckraking enthralled San Franciscans and is sure to captivate modern readers as well.


At a time when Wild West shootouts were perhaps a common thing, San Francisco was no different as people sought to end conflicts with a poorly aimed gunfight. War of Words: A True Tale of Newsprint and Murder is an aptly named title, as the book detailed exactly that: the battle over libel in the printed world and the means people sought to exact revenge.

The meat of the story centers on Isaac Kalloch, a reverend who had (perhaps) an appetite for sins and the de Young brothers who were newspaper entrepreneurs with little regard to the facts. The conflict between the two would eventually build up and result in a death. However, for the majority of the book, more time was spent building up their individual lives. The actual conflict betweenthe two was constantly foreshadowed, a technique that can be thrilling if used with some restraint.

I always feel guilty for giving 2 stars because you would think 2 stars means that I hated it. Instead, I follow the Goodreads’ guidance on stars and have rated it ‘it was okay’. Ideally, I’d give it 2.5 stars. I enjoyed learning about the subject, but I did not necessarily love the read. My favorite parts were the trials. It was hard to feel sympathetic for either of the players because they both had their faults, and to a modern-day reader, their argument seemed pretty petty (you speak bad about my mother–how dare you! …even though I spoke bad about your father).

One of the most startling realizations I had with the book was how the political rhetoric has really not changed in over a hundred years. The media still seeks out items from candidates’ pasts to reveal to the public some past error, while the politicians themselves flip flop but maintain that they have always been consistent.

My rating: 2/5


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