From Publishers Weekly
Keller, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, analyzes the nexus between invention and culture in this incisive and instructive cultural history cum biography. Her subject is the iconic Gatling gun, the first successful machine gun, and its inventor, Richard Jordan Gatling, a 19th-century tinkerer and entrepreneur. A gifted amateur inventor, he registered his first patent—for a mechanical seed planter—in 1844 and had 43 lifetime patents. In 1862, with the Civil War raging, Gatling invented a six-barrel, rapid-firing (200 rounds per minute) gun based on his seed planter. Initially rejected by the Union army, the gun finally came into use in 1866 as a bully and enforcer against striking workers and in the Indian Wars; its legacy—the mechanization of death—didn't become fully apparent until the killing fields of WWI. A celebrity in the 19th century, Gatling was soon reviled for his terrible marvel and then consigned to obscurity. Keller rescues Gatling and anchors his remarkable life firmly in the landscape of 19th-century America: a time and place of egalitarian hope and infinite possibility. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Gatling gun, named after Richard Gatling (1818–1903), was a weapon having a cluster of barrels designed to be discharged automatically when rotated about an axis. Keller, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, posits that although the gun is a deadly weapon, its story is not altogether grim. It’s also the story of a nation on the rise and of a person whose career was tied to “that creative and economic boom.” The author presents as a genius, a man of decency, vision, and ambition who held dozens of patents for a variety of life-enhancing gadgets, including plows, bicycles, flush toilets, and dry-cleaning machines. He also was a man who became rich but lost money through bad breaks and an unwillingness to be anything less than honest in his business dealings. The book includes an eight-page, black-and-white photo insert. In thorough detail, Gatling’s life and work come to life. --George Cohen