Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest Post: Oliver reviews "American Guns: A History of the United States in Ten Firearms" by Chris Kyle and William Doyle

Alright, we're ending our Guest Poster week with a BANG, literally and figureatively.My dear friend Oliver is guest posting today on the blog. I met Ollie about the same time as my husband, since the two of them are close friends, along with the husband of guest poster Jen. It's a bromance (eye roll). Anyway, I'll let Ollie take it from here!

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and guns.
Lots and lots of guns.

Whether you lean more to the left or the right, or what your view is on one of the more controversial punctuation marks in history, no one can deny the impact of firearms in writing history. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of the land of the free and home of the brave.
American Gun is one of those books where you honestly could judge a book by its cover, not that I encourage that. Its subtitle states, “A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms,” and it’s exactly what it delivers. Upon opening the front cover, you’re immediately shown the ten guns the text focuses on. They are displayed as black and white line drawings reminiscent of old-time patent applications. For those with knowledge of firearms most are immediately recognizable: a Kentucky long rifle, the Colt 1911, a Smith & Wesson .38 special revolver. Even those without any firearm knowledge would be able to pick out one or two: the notorious Thompson “Tommy” sub-machine gun, or perhaps the modern M16 rifle. That is this book’s strong point. It manages to tell the story of how technological advancement impacted war within the United States while not alienating a reader who knows nothing about firearms. At the same time, it remains educational and entertaining to those who have an existing knowledge of US history and firearms.

True, if you are a hardcore firearm enthusiast or historian this book would leave you wanting for more information, but that reader isn’t the target. Having read, or more accurately tried to have read, other books on the history of specific firearms, American Gun doesn’t even begin to get close to the level of detail as other books. And that’s a good thing. I never finished those other books because frankly they read like dull text books. Long lists of production numbers and nuanced changes that differentiated the various models from each other filled their pages. Kyle’s greatest success is weaving the story of the gun with the history of the people around them, both those who pulled the trigger as well as those being targeted. Not just recounting a string of battles or simply telling how a particular model came into existence but how it influenced the battles they were used in, or in some cases not used in, and how they lead to military victory. And as well all know the Victors write the history. Spoiler alert: the victors have the better guns.  

As a non-fiction book it’s not exactly a page turner, the “ok-one-more-page-then-I-sleep” kind of book. But, with it being laid out chronologically with each firearm/section of US history assigned to its own chapter, it’s very easy to read. It’s a “read until you’ve had your fill of guns and glory” book that you’re able to set down then pick up right where you left off days later and not have to re-read a thing.

All that being said I really enjoyed American Gun, but that isn’t surprising in the least bit. Anything history or firearms related is pretty much my wheelhouse. Put them together and you’ve got a winner. I give it four of five stars. It’s an easy read, shares its points without getting too political, and for a history type book maintains a good pace while staying true to the topic.  That said I can’t honestly recommend it to everyone simply because it’s just not going to everyone’s thing. However, if you have any interest in US or firearm history American Gun is a great read that serves as an excellent overview of US firearms.

A note on the author:
American Gun: A History of the U.S in Ten Firearms is Chris Kyle’s second, and sadly final, foray into the publishing world. His first book, American Sniper, hit the New York Times bestseller list by chronicling his career as a Navy Seal Sniper. After his military career, Kyle became very active in supporting those wounded in combat as well as those struggling with PTSD. Tragically one of the people whom he tried to help cope with what they were told was PTSD fatally shot Kyle and another veteran Chad Littlefield while at a gun range in Kyle’s home state of Texas*. American Gun was in the final stages of publication but not yet completed at the time of his death. To honor their fallen friend many of the people who worked on and contributed to his first book came together and readied Gun for publication, with authorship being credited to Chris Kyle with William Doyle.

*For more on this check out this excellent New Yorker article; In the Crosshairs

 Thank you Ollie for taking the time to read and write for LE, I truly appreciate it! That's the end of guest post week but Bloggiesta is still going on. I'm trying to get in on one more Twitter talk and then I'll show you how my list panned out on Sunday night!

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