Rather than a traditional narrative history related in text chapters, Delaware Before the Railroads offers a vivid mosaic, driven by illustrations, the layout brimming with insights and illuminating facts delivered in captions and occasional more in-depth paragraphs. History buffs may wish for a timeline or map to pin down aspects of Delaware’s intriguing background, but Tabler’s snippets of life and culture will appeal. Readers will learn about homespun clothing and colonial clockmaking, about hints of undiscovered gold at the bottom of Delaware Bay, and how 18th century plantation owners—in an effort to appear wealthy—often mimicked marble by painting the wooden lintels above their windows in a similar pattern.
The photographs are a standout, providing a genuine sense of the physical culture, built spaces, and locations that comprised this era of Delaware’s history. Tabler includes anecdotes to add texture and avoid dry recitation of historical details,ranging from the processes behind colonial clockmaking to antiquated medical practices (“‘Tooth drawers’ sometimes used such painful practices as string pulling and hot coals to get teeth out“). The choice to zero in on the pre-railroad era is smartly enables Tabler to dive more in deeply into a relatively limited time frame, allowing a greater emphasis on often lost details. Fans of photography, history lovers, and anyone fascinated by the material life of the past will relish this chronicle of early Delaware.
Takeaway: A lavishly illustrated history immersing readers in Colonial Delaware life and culture.
Great for fans of: Kim Rogers Burdick’s Revolutionary Delaware, John A. Munroe’s History of Delaware.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A