Book Review: The Illustrated History of Firearms

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posted on November 7, 2011
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It’s fitting that a spectacular new book from the NRA’s National Firearms Museum is entitled The Illustrated History of Firearms (rather than An Illustrated History) because of the way it so completely and skillfully spans all truly important firearm milestones within a single, practical volume. Authored by Director Jim Supica and Senior Curators Doug Wicklund and Philip Schreier, this new outreach echoes the Museum’s authoritative, but visitor-friendly, appeal in a deluxe hardcover edition owners will be proud to display.

Wisely, the authors allowed their subjects to speak for themselves. After a brief introductory section, the vast majority of the 304 pages are devoted to displaying high-quality color photos of more than 1,500 firearms, identified by useful, but concise, captions. Strategically placed throughout are informative sidebars relevant to the sections they accompany, but which are brief enough not to redirect the reader’s attention.

Organizing any work this broad is an obvious challenge, and the authors do so largely by following a chronological order ranging from a primitive hand cannon circa 1350 right through to present-day examples. Many areas of particular interest are magnifed, thus offering even greater insight into subjects like John M. Browning’s designs, Exhibition Shooters, Hollywood Guns and Engraving Today. An especially extensive grouping across 53 pages traces the smokeless-powder military era beginning with Spanish-American War rifles like the Krag-Jorgensen and Lee Navy and continuing to present-day warriors such as the Barrett M82A1 and the USMC’s M40A1 Sniper Rifle.

Along with practically every well-known gun and model variant are numerous lesser-known creations (including an entire section of “Innovations & Oddities”) certain to broaden every reader’s perspective. No matter where a reader’s interest lies or how numerous those interests are, everyone is bound to discover new guns and gain a greater understanding of their development and use.

What makes The Illustrated History of Firearms such a great value at its selling price of $29.95 (plus shipping and appropriate tax) is that it is so many things rolled into one—authoritative history, matchless reference and handsome showpiece. Shooters, hunters, collectors, indeed anyone even mildly curious about guns, will be hard-pressed to put it down. Autographed copies are now available from the NRA National Firearms Museum Store; phone 703-267-1614 or e-mail store manager Benjamin Van Scoyoc.

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