From Publishers Weekly
In dueling, the author of Hail to the Chiefs finds a surprisingly sturdy axis around which to connect historical figures and incidents as spokes. Holland wheels it all engagingly from the birth of jousting in the 12th century to October 2002 and Iraq's suggestion of a fight among national leaders rather than a war with the U.S. Her arguments about duels surviving in professional sports and business ventures are persuasive, but her anecdotes and digressions carry the narrative. Besides accounts of such famed duel winners as Jim Bowie-or losers, like Alexander Hamilton-she describes astronomer Tycho Brahe getting his nose sliced off, artist Caravaggio slaying a victorious tennis opponent and writer Alexander Pushkin canceling a gunfight in progress because of a snowstorm. Holland also uncovers unknowns with equally remarkable stories, the funniest of which depicts a battle between a man and a dog that "suspected" him of killing its master. Alas, Holland focuses more on the sport of dueling than its messy results. Although she claims duels left a third of their participants dead or seriously injured and that they were "hard on the widows and orphans," she fails to explore the bloody consequences in detail. And while some of her wistful ideas about gentlemen no longer being manly have merit, others, like honor being as antiquated as throwing "virgins down volcanoes," are overwrought. Perhaps the definitive work on dueling remains to be written, but until it arrives, this makes for a fun, fitfully enlightening ride.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Any Neanderthal can avenge an affront, but killing with style requires a true gentleman, steeped in manners, skilled at arms, and valiant in honor's defense. But as Holland reveals in her jocose journey through the dormant custom of dueling, gentlemen would duel at the drop of a hat. Vegetable seeds were at the nub of a duel Sam Houston fought, a typically disproportionate playing out of cause and effect. This aroma of the ridiculous wafts through Holland's cheeky essay. She also makes sport of another aspect of the fine art of running a sword through a man--the way Americans took to aping their Old Country betters, debasing the noble duel with blunderbusses and bowie knives. Maybe the duel fell away because it couldn't coexist with democracy, but it bequeathed stories and victims aplenty for this humorous history of dueling. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved