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The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery Paperback – July 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5 Up–This collection of 10 working catapult projects offers a fascinating look at world history, military strategy, and physics, related with an engaging yet lighthearted touch. This historical context makes the projects all the more interesting. The working model of the Macedonian Ballista is cool, but even more so when one learns the role that catapults played in the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Instructions are clear, with full materials lists, helpful diagrams, and no skipped steps. Saw and drill are often required, along with hardware store purchases such as PVC pipe or specifically sized wood. Some of the finished results are large, such as God's Stone Thrower, a 5' x 5' construction with considerable flinging power, while a couple are smaller, tabletop-sized models that still propel successfully. Since the ultimate object is to fling things through the air, there is repeated emphasis on safety, including a first chapter entitled "Always Be Careful," an "adult supervision required" statement for every construction, and repeated warnings within the text. As for projectiles, water balloons, peanuts, and plastic cows are mentioned among "suitable ammunition," rather than the venomous snakes, cattle manure, or severed heads referred to in the historical portions. There's excellent booktalk potential here, and lively reading even for those who never get around to constructing a catapult.–Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR
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Review

"Fascinating." -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Puts the weapons in context of their times." -- Sacramento Bee

"This book is a hoot . . . the modern version of Fun for Boys and Harper’s Electricity for Boys." -- Natural History
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556525265
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556525261
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.4 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In 2011, Popular Mechanics Magazine added five special editors to its masthead: William Gurstelle, Jay Leno, the Mythbusters' Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman, and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds. There's a reason Bill is there along side those luminaries: His views on risk taking, combined with his best selling books have put him in the spotlight.

Media Attention
Long features about Bill and his ideas have run in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, the London Daily Telegraph, National Public Radio, PBS, Radio Canada, and scores of other media outlets.

Best Selling Author
Now, because of his groundbreaking views and easy writing style, he's one of the most widely read science and technology authors in the world. His best sellers include Absinthe and Flamethrowers, Backyard Ballistics, Adventures from the Technology Underground, and The Practical Pyromaniac. More than a half million copies of his books have been sold, a truly amazing amount for a technology author.

National Magazine Columnist
In addition to his books, he writes frequently on culture and technology for national magazines including Popular Mechanics, Wired, the Atlantic, and Make. Online, he is a frequent contributor to BoingBoing, Makezine, and Wired.

Popular Speaker
Bill has given lectures to groups all over the world including North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Select clients and their comments are available through the navigation panel to the left.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a fun book. The author does a good job of leading the reader through some history of war focusing on the role of the catapult. He points out that historically there have been three types of military units, the hard hitting infantry, the fast moving cavalry, and then the artillery. I liked his description of the catapult: catapults make something big go whoosh and then splat.

The basic approach of the book is to cover the usages of catapults through the ages, and then show how to make a model the given type of catapult. It was interesting and informative to see the different types of catapults:

1) Tension - basically a big bow and big arrows

2) Torsion - using rows to provide the tension

3) Traction - using lots of people to pull on ropes

4) Gravity - using heavy objects, like lots of rocks

The book has a nice layout. The pictures and diagrams are good. The instructions on how to build the various types of model catapults are detailed and well written.

If you are interested in a brief history of catapults and/or interested in building some model catapults, buy this book.
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Format: Paperback
I was really impressed with this book while sitting sipping a cup of coffee. Wondering to myself, how could I use this to have fun with my family if we lived in a space with, of all things, space.
This book not only shows how to make catapults of various types. It goes into the history of how the catapult was made or as it transformed throughout history. There are short vignettes about various historical subjects surrounding seizes throughout time and what types of catapults were used, what they looked like and how to build something like it using easy to but materials.
This is a fun book for the hobbyist who likes to tinker with things and how has a flair for fun projects (or projectiles for that matter.) I will buy this book when I get a place and I hope it sells for those who want to work with their kids on a fun project.
The Art of the Catapult is a fun romp....if you liked Lord of The Rings, you will like this book, putting catapults in perspective.
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Format: Paperback
This book is divided as chapters that begin with a narration of a battle or siege, and then and then presents the instructions on how to build several catapults. I learned my archetype of a catapult is an onagre, and that is one of the oldest kind, so I am severely obsolete. The instructions on how to build the models are very clear and easy to follow. The book is appropriate for young audiences, yet entertaining for adults too.

I built the onagre as depicted here. It can throw little wood blocks up seven feet away without touching the ground (it slides some more). In my first attempt the block would not go farther than one feet, and I realized the rope was twisting the thread in two different directions, and corrected the twisting. Tried it with different numbers and types of threads. In the end, using eight loops of candlewick, it snapped the wood where the nail penetrated. I will build a new one, using glue instead of nails, to see if it holds up better. Lots of fun!
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Format: Paperback
This is a juvenile title that is well illustrated with step by step directions for building several working models of weapons (from a simple sling to a trebuchet). It even gives directions for making rope. In addition to showing how to make siege engines, it covers their history, the reasons they were developed, how they were used and what caused a decline in their popularity. I can see a student using this book to make a model for a history class, or an SCA group adapting the information for a full-sized weapon.
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Format: Paperback
I was really dissappointed with this book. Several of the projects are ridiculous, and he didn't do enough research. A few quick searches of the internet reveal that he gets a lot of historical facts wrong.

His first two projects, have nothing to do with anything related to actual catapults. The first is two sticks tied together, and the second is the equivalent of a waterbaloon slingshot. He calls it the "Viking Catapult". Of the ten projects in this book, three of them are modeled on actual historical types of catapults. Two are sub projects, that just show you how to build parts of the catapults, and the other five are things a child could design on thier own. As the one of the other reviewers pointed out, the last project is a plastic spoon catapult game. Small children do this on their own.

Do your self a favor, and download some free plans off the internet.
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Format: Paperback
Why would I want to go through the building of all these great weapons just to catapult some water balloons? PLEEAAAASE!!! Do you think Rome got to be Rome by doing just that? We can do better!

I always wanted to free the Genghis Khan inside me. And when I heard about this precious book containing everything you want to know about catapults, ballistas, trebuchets and onagers I knew I had to have it.

The construction of the catapult was pretty easy. It took me less than a week to build one (and if you think that a decent siege lasts for months, it is time well spent). Of course I did not lift a finger. My own troops did it. And the baby was gorgeous.

First we tried to catapult some dead goats but they did not go far. Then we tried several two ton rocks and the result was still disappointing. Finally I discovered what was wrong. You should never build the catapult in an apartment. Go outdoors. Get a house with a yard.

With that problem solved, let me tell you it was a sheer joy to use this magnificent weapon.

No need to say that after just a few tests involving some spies we caught recently, I was pretty confident to start invading my neighborhood. Although the book does not mention it, it is customary in these occasions to let "whoever you are about to destroy" have the opportunity to surrender peacefully and avoid one or two of the usual barbaric, shall I say... bureaucracies.

But don't let that hold you down. Just because you promise, it does not say you have to keep it. No dead will ever complain, right?

Right! So... so far, I destroyed several houses, killed most of my enemies and I haven't yet finished counting all the gold I pilled.
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