Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Post Revisionist Firearms History
As you may have noticed recently, firearms have become...well...hot. Look at the success of History Channel's Extreme Marksman, Future Weapons on Discovery or my own shows on Outdoor Channel. Other channels are actively shopping for "gun stuff;" BBC's got a huge AK-47 dcoumentary in the hopper (as well as three competing AK books, Michael Hodges' AK-47 The Story of a Gun; Larry Kahaner's AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War (which received vicious reviews, BTW) and Mikhail Kalashnikov and Elena Joy's Kalashnikov: The Gun That Changed the World.
I just got a copy of Mr. Gatlin's Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller, which I'll read when I finish up Tom Kratman's relentlessly grim novel Caliphate, on an Islamized Europe and an Imperialized America. I've always been fascinated with Gatling, but I'm not expecting all that much from the book, partly because of comments from Dave Kopel, who read an advance copy, but also considering this line from the book, quoted in a review, "The fact that arms are necessary to a nation's survival is a grubby and uncomfortable truth."
Hmmmmm...perhaps not the way I would phrase it. It's one of the unfortunate truths that most of the historical/scholarly books written about weapons (other than the "how to" books we all know and love) are created by journalists who hate weapons. They're the people who can sell the books to dreadfully liberal publishing establishment. It was interesting when I was trying to sell my gun book, Bullet Points: Postcards From the Heart of the Gun Culture, that even the big conservative houses took a pass, and for the same reason the mainstream New York publishing houses weren't interested. The rejection letters stopped just short of the same slur Obama used in San Fran...you peckerwoods and your damn guns!
While I was "between jobs" last year, I tried to read up a bunch on gun history. The two most interesting books on military weapons I found was Anthony Smith's Machine Gun: The Story of the Men and the Weapon that Changed the Face of War, which I picked up off an airport bookrack at Heathrow in London, and A Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis.
I think the great nonfiction book on the role of guns in both historical and modern American culture remains to be written — one of these days I will take a shot at it. And I'd love to see Stephen Hunter try, since he has a profound understanding of guns and culture. The closest thing to such a book are the introductory chapters of John Ross' Unintended Consequences, where he essentially outlines the beginnings of what we refer to as the "gun culture."
As it happens, one of the points of contention when I was circulating the proposal for Bullet Points was whether there was actually such a thing as a "gun culture." As one of the rejections put it, "Is it possible that Mr. Bane overspeaks because of his advocacy position?"