New Reviews, Part 2 — Kirkus Reviews


Here’s the next one, a Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews, which was mighty nice of them. Now, I know that I shouldn’t be looking gift horses in the mouth, but I just wanted to mention that there’s a niggling factual error in this one; namely, that I end with the Vietnam era and the advent of the M16, “which remains today’s infantry rifle.” Not quite so! American Rifle actually concludes with a chapter analyzing the current Iraq War and the controversy over the M4 (including the XM8, the HK416, and the SCAR). For those riveted by the story of the M4, see my earlier post on the topic here.

Anyway, on to the review . . . 

“A nuts-and-bolts description of American firearms development that provides surprising insight into the country’s history. Historian Rose (Washington’s Spies, 2006) reminds readers that the rifle remained a civilian weapon until the Civil War. Centuries earlier, gunsmiths learned that engraving a sprial inside the smooth-barreled musket (“rifling”) made the bullet spin, increasing range and accuracy. The downside: Rifle-boring was a skilled, labor-intensive process, and the bullet had to grip the barrel tightly to pick up spin. Musketeers dropped a ball down the barrel; riflemen required a powerful ramrod. Expense and slow operation mattered little to hunters, who preferred rifles as early as the 17th century. During the 18th, American gunsmiths lengthened and narrowed the barrel to produce the Kentucky rifle, more accurate and also cheaper because of the smaller bullet. Massed armies with muskets fought major battles from the Revolution to the Mexican Wr, but riflemen gave a good account of themselves as snipers and guerrillas. They even won some battles: At King’s Mountain in 1780, for example, dense forests gave the advantage to slow-firing but accurate rifles. Technical progress made rifles the preferred Civil War weapon, although muskets remained common. The author ably demonstrates the struggles of inventors who developed reliable breech loaders, all-in-one bullets and repeating rifles before the war, only to have the Union army’s hidebound ordnance chief turn up his nose at them. During the post war decades, all were adopted despite fierce opposition by experts convinced that marksmanship, not rapid fire, wins battles. That controversy continues to rage, and Rose’s account never flags as he proceeds through the nasty engineering and political and media battles that produced the Springfield 1903 (World War I), Garand M1 (WWII) and M14, ending with the Vietnam era’s superb, but not perfect, M16, which remains today’s infantry rifle with no end in sight. Ingenious and satisfying.” 

Posted by Alexander Rose,


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