“The Astonishing Story Behind ‘Kidnapped,’” Weekend Edition, NPR, February 2, 2010,

Birthright:The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped

Praise and Reviews

“The astonishing story behind Kidnapped,”
- NPR Weekend Edition Sunday

“The extraordinary story of James Annesley has inspired at least five novels, including Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering and, most famously, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, one of the best-loved adventure books of all time. Yet the true story behind a case that was in its day every bit as sensational as those of Oscar Wilde, Myra Hindley or OJ Simpson were in theirs has never fully been told – and it is, if anything, even more spectacular than the fictions spun around it.  "I think one reason why there's been so little recent interest in the Annesley saga is that many modern historians and literary critics simply have not considered it to be true," says Roger Ekirch, an award-winning American historian whose impeccably researched yet rip-roaring rendering of ­Annesley's life, Birthright, is published this month.”
- Jon Henley, The Guardian (London)

“Ekirch’s book brings the story brilliantly to life and vividly reconstructs the violent and debt-ridden world in which disreputable aristocrats . . . operated.”
- Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times (London)

“A splendid story of low skullduggery and high politics, and Roger Ekirch deserves congratulation for disinterring it. As befits an eminent historian, his research is detailed and the evidence carefully weighed.”
- Andro Linklater, The Spectator

“Author Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped has an even more thrilling tale behind it.”
- Simon Edge, Daily Express (London)

“It was the Da Vinci Code of the 19th Century - a rollicking adventure story about a young nobleman abducted and sold into slavery in America. But now it has been revealed that Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, Kidnapped, was not fiction at all, but a loosely based version of a shocking real life tale involving the cream of Dublin society. And amazingly, Stevenson even toned down the drama in his novel, according to historian, Roger Ekirch, who has now written up the true story behind the famous fiction.”
- Jim Clarke, Irish Sunday Mirror (Dublin)

"Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (1886) describes the adventures of David Balfour, whose dastardly uncle swindles him out of his inheritance and packs him off to servitude in the colonies. The historian A Roger Ekirch has uncovered the true story that inspired the novel and, remarkably, it proves even more dramatic than Stevenson's swashbuckler.”
- David Evans, The Independent

“The story of Jemmy Annesley, kidnapped at 12 and shipped from Dublin to the American backwoods in 1728 by his wicked Uncle Richard, certainly recalls an early episode in the story of young David Balfour. But the tale of Annesley's picaresque adventures is excitingly dramatic in its own right and Professor Ekirch has researched it with academic relish as a real-life oddity that is no stranger than fiction.”
- Iain Finlayson, Times (London)

“An extraordinary work of history, written by one of America’s most imaginative historians, that is truer and more fascinating than fiction.”
- Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor Emeritus, Brown University, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution

“This gripping book tells a remarkable true story…. Roger Ekirch expertly illumines eighteenth-century societies in the British colonies and the seedy underside of Georgian Dublin. His masterly, sympathetic and racy reconstruction of the adventures of Jemmy Annesley at last fleshes out the truth behind the tales told by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.”
- Toby Barnard, Oxford University, author of Making the Grand Figure: Lives and Possessions in Ireland, 1641-1770

“Fascinating even if Annesley’s story hadn’t inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.”
- Barbara Hoffert, Book Review Editor, Library Journal (online pre-pub alert)

“A fascinating picture of Ireland under its Protestant aristocracy, who were given to gambling, drinking, dueling and fighting lawsuits. . . .Ekirch provides the necessary context for understanding the characters and events in the tale, including changing courtship and child-rearing practices, the deference that tied poverty-stricken Catholic tenants to landlords and, most important, the kidnapping trade that authorities had difficulty eliminating.  An engrossing familial and legal tale told with dash and clarity.”
- Kirkus Reviews

“The dramatic tale of James (Jemmy) Annesley inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and four other novels. Now Virginia Tech history professor Ekirch (Day's Close) presents the intriguing, complex true narrative of the 18th-century travails of the rightful earl of Anglesea. . . a fascinating read.”
-Publishers Weekly

“Ekirch out-kidnaps Stevenson in this thrilling, thoroughly documented story. A perfect mix of true crime and real-life adventure.”
- *Starred Review, Booklist (American Library Association)

“It all sounds too incredible to be true but Ekirch’s extensive court transcripts assure the reader of the story’s veracity. . . . Each chapter brings captivating information about the betrayal and resulting trial, which concluded with a surprise verdict.”
- Scottish Review of Books

“A lively and textured account of corruption and scandal among the landed gentry.”
- College and Research Libraries News

“Readers of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped or Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering, both dealing with family-arranged kidnappings in 18th-century Scotland, will be interested in this true kidnapping story that inspired both books . . . . fascinating.”
- Providence Journal

“A true story of family betrayal and redemption in Ireland, England and the American colonies.  These historical events, which later formed the basis for Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel Kidnapped, end up being more fascinating than the fiction spin-off. . . . In combining an inherently exciting tale with surprising facts, Ekirch has come up with one of the year's most intriguing history books.”
- Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Ekirch (history, Virginia Tech; At Day's Close: Night in Times Past) does a masterful job . . . in this meticulously researched and highly readable narrative. Concisely written and well documented, this fascinating book will appeal to both serious readers and general history buffs.”
- Library Journal

“Ekirch, a distinguished historian of colonial North America, recreates one of the most extraordinary causes-célèbres of the eighteenth century, a tale of skulduggery and intrigue among the Irish aristocracy. . . . His beautifully written book reads like a fast paced thriller.” 
- British Scholar Society

“[A]s dramatic a tale as any Robert Louis Stevenson ever wrote.”
- The Onion’s A.V. Club

“[E]xtremely readable and intricately researched.”
- Turtle Bunbury, Irish Daily Mail

“If you like edge-of-the-seat courtroom drama with a dash of kidnapping, revenge and murder thrown in, then this is the book for you.”
- Practical Family History

“Replete with skulduggery, treachery, blackguardism and base villainy, this history really does seem the stuff of melodrama. . . . Ekirch’s research unveils a wonderful story, and the period is richly evoked. “
- Colm Farren, The Irish Times