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Persistant Fear of Editorialization
on May 13, 2012
I'm not especially familiar with guns in general so I read this from the perspective of someone aiming to build up some basic encyclopedia knowledge of how rifles work and the motivations behind their designs. Altogether it's difficult to say the book met those hopes.
The book begins with an enlightening history of the major milestones in the design of assault rifles and their ammunition as well as the ideas that fell to the wayside along the way. The introduction also contains descriptions of the different actions employed by various rifles which establishes a fairly unwelcome precedent that continues throughout the book: Long, dry, impossible-to-visualize descriptions of the mechanical functioning of rifles. Never has the axiom that "a picture's worth a thousand words" rung so true to me as in this book, as the amount of ink spilled in the authors' vain struggle to narrate engineering qualities would probably be curtailed a great deal with the addition of a few more simple diagrams.
Probably the most frustrating aspect of the text however is the authors' reticence when it comes to actually explaining any reasoning behind any particular weapon's working. There's no shortage of discourse on the actual workings of rifles but the writing tiptoes on broken glass when it comes to explaining why most of these models came into existence and what they improved upon. Most people know about infamous use cases of early M16s and the British L85A1 and there's no hesitation in the book to use these in explaining departing or corrected designs, but the writers steadfastly refuse to commentate on the design motivations and real-world performance of most weapons. The Czech SA Vz.58 is an obvious example: the authors immediately note its outside resemblance to a Kalishnakov but then proceed into yet another plodding description of its mechanical features without elaborating on the motivations behind them or how they were intended to differentiate the Vz.58. Apparently under the assumption the overall merits of any gun are far too subjective and debatable to even touch from afar, it's never touched upon at all.
This is endemic throughout the book and it seems clear the authors were seeking to position this as an impartial encyclopedia and free of their own biases. While it's understandable, it's hard not to shake a feeling that it could have both maintained objectivity and become more informative by more directly expanding upon the reasoning and advantages behind the designs of rifles and their practical field performance. Instead, this is a book of pictures and very literal descriptions of rifles, and barely anything beyond.