The Very First Cover of the Book Review

This year, the Book Review turns 125.

It’s an institution that was born under the watchful eye of Adolph S. Ochs, who established the standalone supplement shortly after he became publisher of the paper in 1896. It has been known variously as “the Saturday Review of Books and Art,” “the Sunday Book Review,” “the NYTBR” or, mostly internally, simply “TBR” (not to be confused with “to be read,” though you can understand the confusion).

Over this anniversary year, we will bring you pieces from our archives to enjoy again or, more often than not, for the first time. The ethos of our pages has remained the same. We couldn’t put it better than the Book Review’s editors in 1913 who extolled “an open forum for the discussion of books from all sane and honest points of view.”

We begin here at the beginning with the inaugural eight-page issue that appeared on Oct. 10, 1896, including cover stories on Oscar Wilde’s suffering in jail and a (strangely familiar) report on how department stores were threatening independent bookstores. Among the 10 book reviews on the inside was a critique of Robert Barr’s newest one: “Mr. Robert Barr is a reasonably ingenious, versatile, fairly well informed writer, and to a sensitive person frequently an irritating one.” Sane and honest indeed.

Tina Jordan is the deputy editor of the Book Review and author of a book celebrating its 125th anniversary, to be published next fall.

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