Automotive Holiday Deals Books Holiday Gift Guide Shop Men's Athletic Shoes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Adele egg_2015 All-New Amazon Fire TV Get Ready for the Winter Gifts Under $50 Find the Best Purina Pro Plan for Your Pet Amazon Gift Card Offer bf15 bf15 bf15 $30 Off Amazon Echo $15 Off All-New Fire Kindle Black Friday Deals Black Friday Video Game Deals Outdoor Deals on HTL
Profile for A. Bowdoin Van Riper > Reviews


A. Bowdoin Van R...'s Profile

Customer Reviews: 38
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,113,370
Helpful Votes: 526

Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
A. Bowdoin Van Riper RSS Feed (Vineyard Haven, MA USA)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films, 2d ed.
Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films, 2d ed.
by Michael R. Pitts
Edition: Paperback
Price: $49.95
42 used & new from $41.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Old-Fashioned Reference Book for Hardcore Fans, September 4, 2013
Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films delivers what it promises: paragraph-long entries on 5,105 Westerns, each listing the title, release date, run time, director, writer, and cast, along with a one-sentence plot synopsis and a one-sentence evaluation. The entries take up 412 three-column pages, and the name index takes up 58 five-column pages printed in even smaller type. Sandwiched between the two are a half-page appendix listing the names of Western stars' horses, a page-and-a-half appendix listing the screen names of actors who worked under more than one, and a scattershot "Selected Bibliography."

Pitts defines his scholarly territory succinctly--any extant film, available for public viewing in some form, that depicts life on the North American frontier or has a generically "Western" plot--and covers it exhaustively. Western Movies catalogs obscure serials, made-for-television films, foreign productions, and hybrid-genre pictures as well as familiar classics like Stagecoach, Red River, Shane and Unforgiven. There are, inevitably, omissions--Sukiyaki Western Django, for example, and Back to the Future, part III--but they are balanced by Pitts' inclusion of thematically "Western" films set outside the genre's traditional boundaries of time and place: Drums Along the Mohawk (Colonial-era upstate New York), The Yearling (rural Florida, circa 1900), Bad Day at Black Rock (post-WWII California), and Ned Kelly (nineteenth-century Australia).

Pitts preference for classic Westerns over modern ones, though never explicitly articulated, is evident in his critical judgments of individual films. He praises many of the short, stylized "B" features made to fill the bottoms of double bills in the 1940s and early 1950s, and tersely dismisses most of the genre's post-1960 landmarks--The Wild Bunch, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Unforgiven, for example--as overly violent, overlong, or simply overrated. His description of the 2010 remake of True Grit as a "well-photographed box office success" feels like praising with faint damns. Pitts' judgment is consistent in its idiosyncrasy, however, and most readers will find it easy enough to compare his taste to theirs and embrace or discount his judgments accordingly.

Even for movie fans whose judgments match up with the author's, however, the books is of little use in answering the question: "What should I watch next?" The plot summaries, far shorter than the back-cover blurb on a DVD case, are too terse to give the reader any real feel for the film, and the critical judgments are akin to the capsule reviews in a newspaper or magazine. Three-quarters of a typical entry is simply an authoritative summary of the film's credits: information now readily available online. The entries--all 5,105 of them--are simply listed alphabetically, with no categorization or analytical indexing (even in appendices, as in the Videohound guides) that would allow a user to sift out Westerns by decade, setting, or theme.

Western Movies is, in the end, a reference book in the strictest and narrowest sense: a book designed to be consulted, rather than read, by users seeking a brief, authoritative shot of data on a film whose exact title they already know. Fans of the Western who relish the idea of such a book should certainly buy this one. Like the final print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Oxford English Dictionary, it is the last, highly refined expression of a type of work whose day has passed.

Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet
Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet
by Abraham H. Foxman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.01
76 used & new from $0.01

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Beginner's Primer, But Maddeningly Incomplete, September 4, 2013
Discussing what to do about hate speech online is like discussing what to do about a genocidal dictator in a foreign country. Agreeing that it's loathsome, and the world would be better off without it, is easy. Agreeing that getting rid of it will be a challenge (do it wrong, and the side-effects may turn out to be worse than the original problem) is also easy. Figuring out how to get rid of it, and what price you're willing to pay in order to do so, is mind-bendingly hard.

The authors of Viral Hate spend roughly two-thirds of their 180 pages of text covering the easy stuff. They explain, with a lawyerly concern for precision and detail, what hate speech is, why it damages society, how government attempts to regulate it have collided with the First Amendment to the Constitution, and why private entities (which can limit speech as they see fit) have considerably more power and latitude to act. They catalog the extensive gray areas that make all but the most extreme forms of hate speech difficult to regulate, and outline the abundant reasons why overzealous regulation of hate speech has the potential to abridge freedom of speech, conscience, and assembly. All that, however, takes up a great deal of space, and leaves Foxman and Wolf correspondingly little time to articulate a solution. They outline the framework--"self-policing" of hate speech in online "public squares" by the users themselves, backed by companies willing to frame (and enforce) community norms--but the details are left as an exercise for the reader.

This unwillingness to engage with the details diminishes the book in two critical ways. First, it implies that the working-out of those details will be a straightforward, organic process: that unofficial governing bodies will emerge naturally from online communities numbering in the thousands or millions, that definitions of "hate speech" can (despite the gray areas) be crowd-sourced unproblematically, and that the side-effects of whatever mechanisms and definitions emerge will be negligible. Second, it implies that the self-regulation of speech in online communities has never been seriously attempted--that Wikipedia, Slashdot, Reddit, and the rest (as well as the work of those who have thought about them) have nothing to teach us. Neither is true, and readers with a serious interest in online communities and how they operate will be frustrated by Foxman and Wolf's airy, seat-of-the-pants approach to problems that Sherry Turkle, Jaron Lanier, and Clay Shirky (among others) have been thinking about--seriously and systematically, with close attention to the fine texture of the real thing--for decades.

Foxman and Wolf come from the world of law and public policy, and they've written a book that delves deeply into what they know and glides lightly over what they don't. That is, perhaps, to be expected, but it serves neither the needs of readers, nor the realities of a complex problem, well. Add a star to my rating if you're brand-new to debates about free speech and censorship; subtract one if you know how Potter Stewart defined pornography.

Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
by Stephen R. Bown
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.29
51 used & new from $2.65

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mired in the Present, May 19, 2013
Scurvy the story of how dozens of smart, highly motivated people tried, for hundreds of years, to solve a medical mystery. That solving it took hundreds of years, even though thousands of lives and the viability of Europe's oceangoing navies hung on a solution, suggests the difficulty of the problem. That the solution is now well-known, and can be summarized in terms simple enough for a child to grasp, suggests the difficulty of recounting the story for modern audiences. After only a chapter or two, the urge to shout "Fresh citrus juice, you fools!" back across the centuries is nearly overwhelming.

This is where Scurvy falls short. It narrates the story in novelistic detail, with an excellent sense of pace, and well-rounded portraits of the three figures mentioned in the subtitle. It shows the non-specialist reader everything about the history of scurvy-prevention research . . . except a comprehensive picture of the social and intellectual landscape within which that research took place. Bown's narrative, good as it is, never brings alive a world where nobody knew which facts about scurvy and its mitigation were crucial, and which were irrelevant "noise." It never sketches the conceptual framework - ideas about health, disease, medicine, nutrition, and cooking - into which 17th- and 18th-century researchers attempted to fit those facts. Instead, present-day knowledge (the solution was so simple!) subtly colors Bown's analysis of their work.

His heroes' struggles to find an answer thus, almost inevitably, come across as hopelessly clumsy and maddeningly pig-headed. They cling to "solutions" that we know to be useless, and, after stumbling on clues that we know to be vital, toss them aside and move blindly on. Bown never scolds them outright for these "failings," but his tone of frustration and disapproval is palpable. Scurvy never breaks free of its present-day viewpoint, or explores the problem as it would have been seen by those who tried so hard, for so long, to solve it. Yet, understanding the past requires that we do just that.

Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America
Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America
by Martin J. Smith
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but Strange, March 19, 2013
This is a very strange book.

Situated somewhere between feature-story journalism and popular history, it provides exactly what its subtitle promises: Twenty case studies of things - career moves, inventions, marketing strategies - that seemed like good ideas in theory, but went horribly wrong in practice. The authors are journalists, and their dedication to the journalist's fundamental craft of getting the facts and presenting them clearly shows on every page. Each of the twenty short chapters is comprehensive, detailed, and well-sourced without ever feeling dry or dull, and each of them opens with a useful 2-3 paragraph overview of the idea, why it seemed promising, and how it went wrong. Taken individually, the chapters are superb. Those on the chemist who gave the world both leaded gasoline and CFCs, on the kudzu that blankets the American South, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, and on the window-shedding John Hancock Building in Boston are the best introductions to those subjects I've ever read.

The quality of the research and the writing extends even to the more offbeat case studies - ones that, in less-careful hands, would have descended into smirk and snark. Smith and Kiger write about the offbeat sexual practices of the utopian, nineteenth-century Oneida Community without leering, and trace the spectacular flameout of world heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks' career without sneering. Many books on the history of technology and "weird history" recount the story of Thomas Edison staging the public electrocution of an elephant; Smith and Kiger provide the context you never knew was missing by recounting the history of other elephant executions. Many music fans of a certain age know that, for a brief time in the late 1960s, rising guitar god Jimi Hendrix opened for the pre-fab pop group The Monkees . . . but that's all they know about it. Smith and Kiger tell the other 99% of the story, asking (and providing a serious and plausible answer to) every music fan's first question: "What were they thinking?" Astoundingly, it actually does make sense in context.

The book's blend of topics - the grotesque (elephant electrocution), the farcical (the Hendrix-Monkees double bill), the tragic (Leon Spinks' self-destructiveness), and the deadly serious (the John Hancock Building) - lies at the heart of its strangeness. The authorial "voice" is consistent throughout, but the content swerves all over the map. The rise and fall of the Xtreme Football League shares space with the partial destruction of the Earth's ozone layer by CFCs, and the ecological catastrophe of kudzu with the paper dress. The strangeness is intensified by Smith and Kiger's definition of "fiasco," which encompasses everything from the impractical (flying cars) and the faddish (leisure suits) to the lethally dangerous (the Tacoma Narrows Bridge). The fact that each chapter ends with a small, boxed inset distilling each case study into a literal "recipe" for disaster brings it to a peak.

If you're interested enough in the subject matter to be reading this review, you'll almost certainly find the book interesting. Just be aware that you're in for a very strange read.

Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema
Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema
by Timothy Shary
Edition: Paperback
48 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dry, but Indispensible, January 16, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Hollywood has been making films about teenagers since the 1930s, and films aimed at teenagers since the mid-1950s. The genre flourished until the mid-sixties, languished during the late sixties and seventies, and then flared back to life in the early 1980s in the hands of directors like Cameron Crowe (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl, Real Genius) and especially John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Published in 2004, Timothy Shary's Generation Multiplex is a catalog and analysis of those late-twentieth-century Hollywood teen films, overlaid with an interpretation of what, collectively, they said about the lives, loves hopes, and fears of American teenagers.

Shary, adapting and expanding his PhD thesis, does his job thoroughly and well. This is likely the definitive book on its subject, and - as befits such a book - it's exhaustively comprehensive, lucidly organized, and clearly written. Anyone seriously interested in the Hollywood teen film, or in Hollywood films of the eighties and nineties, ought to read (and will, very likely, want to own) the book.

All that said, it's not a lot of fun to read. Shary's grouping of teen films by type, rather than year, facilitates his analysis of shared themes, but kills any sense of narrative momentum and makes it hard for him to connect the films to broader social and cultural trends. His "voice" is so measured, and his analyses so relentlessly sober, that it's easy to forget how frequently and enthusiastically the genre he's analyzing embraced anarchy, surrealism, and low comedy. First books by academic authors (mine included) can be like that. When your book starts as a PhD thesis, it's hard - no matter how much you edit - to get the chill of seriousness out of its bones.

If you're a reader of a certain age and (just) want a breezy, nostalgic tour of the movies of your youth . . . this isn't your book (though Jonathan Bernstein's Pretty In Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies might be). If, however, you want a serious and detailed study of the genre -- want to know what Hollywood was telling the world about you and your friends -- it definitely is.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2013 7:40 PM PDT

Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
by Steven Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
84 used & new from $0.01

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Invitation to Think Differently, November 1, 2012
Future Perfect is an optimistic book about technology, society, and the future. That's remarkable in itself, since pessimistic (or at least cautionary) books tend to outnumber optimistic ones, but what's even more remarkable is the care and precision with which Johnson makes his case. The new communications technologies, he argues, are significant less for what they do than for what their capabilities enable us to do, if we choose to do it.

The first of the book's two sections lays out its central premise: that distributed "peer networks" allowing the free flow of information between diverse individuals are a powerful force for social progress. decentralized networks are a powerful tool for facilitating interaction between individuals, and thus for social progress. It concludes: "We have a theory of peer networks. We have the practice of building them. And we have results. We know that peer networks can work in the real world. The task now is to discover how far they can take us." The second, longer section - a series of thematic chapters on subjects like journalism, technology, and government - makes good on that promise. It presents case studies that show what peer networks have already accomplished, and contemplates what they might accomplish in the future.

Johnson's goal, in Future Perfect is not to write a primer on the theory of networks, an analysis of how distributed networks function, or a history of distributed networks (though he touches, expertly but wearing his expertise lightly, on all those subjects). Nor is his goal to predict the future: The potential applications he describes for peer networks are presented as possibilities, not certainties. His evident goal is, rather, to encourage readers raised in a world (largely) defined by centralized networks to think seriously about one (more) defined by peer networks. It is a manifesto, but an intellectual rather than a political one. In the spirit of Apple Computer (the subject of one of Johnson's case studies), it urges: "Think different."

Future Perfect is, in this sense, a spiritual sequel to Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. Like the earlier work, it takes a proposition that, at first glance, seems completely absurd -- the height of fuzzy headed wishful thinking -- and patiently shows that the "absurd" idea is a more useful tool than the received wisdom that "everybody knows." Future Perfect improves on Everything Bad, however, by its carefully delineated internal structure and its layering of case study on case study, thematic chapter on thematic chapter. Johnson's central idea is breathtakingly simple. His development of it, at length and in detail, is what gives the book its power.

Steven Johnson is both an insightful thinker and an exceptionally graceful writer. If you haven't encountered his work before, this is an excellent place to begin.

Teenagers And Teenpics: Juvenilization Of American Movies
Teenagers And Teenpics: Juvenilization Of American Movies
by Thomas Patrick Doherty
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.95
39 used & new from $7.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Book on Teen Films of the 1950s, October 31, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Classic 1950s films about teens like Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause were the tip of a very large cinematic iceberg. Major studios and (especially) small-time independent production companies cranked out dozens of teen-oriented films a year: rock-and-roll films, juvenile-delinquent films, surfing films, high-school melodramas, hot-rod films, and science-fiction/horror films. Most of them were shot with low budgets, no-name casts, and tight schedules . . . and most of them fell somewhere between competently formulaic and jaw-droppingly awful. Teens were the most reliable movie-going audience in 1950s America, however, and even formulaic teenpics drew substantial audiences and turned respectable profits.

Thomas Doherty's Teenagers and Teenpics is, by far, the best book available on 1950s teenpics. It traces the changes in Hollywood, and the changes in the wider culture, that made them a viable genre, and breaks down each of the major teen subgenres that flourished in the 1950s. Doherty is more interested in analyzing the films than in cataloging them, to the book and reader's benefit. The book doesn't list every significant teen film of the era (or try) but it covers enough ground to clearly set the teenpics in the context of 1950s Hollywood and 1950s culture in general. The last chapter - the only one that breaks from this pattern - is, tellingly, also the weakest. Trying to survey the development of teenpics from the end of the fifties into the then-present day (late 1990s), it sacrifices insightful analysis for mere base-covering, and feels unsatisfying by comparison.

The book as a whole, though, is both analytically satisfying and smoothly, accessibly written. It's a rewarding read for anyone with even a passing interest in Hollywood film or 1950s culture, and a must-own for anyone with a serious interest in either.

The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen
The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen
by Nick Clooney
Edition: Hardcover
76 used & new from $0.01

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Nifty Concept, Poorly Executed, September 16, 2005
Few movie fans will dispute Nick Clooney's underlying point: That some movies change the way we, the audience, looks at the world. A wonderful book could be written around that idea, each chapter tracing the impact of a different movie. _Movies That Changed Us_ is, unfortunately, not that book.

Clooney's grasp of historical context--or, to be charitable, his presentation of it--is too narrow and too shallow to do justice to the points he's trying to make. If you're going to make the case that a movie "changed us" you have to be able to draw the Before and After pictures in convincing detail. You also have to be able to show that the movie itself was a catalyst for change . . . not just an indicator of larger forces that actually brought the change about. Clooney (especially when writing about changes outside of the movie business) frequently fails to do this,

The chapter on _The Graduate_ suggests that Clooney recognizes this problem. He argues that the movie (with its jaded view of romance, sex, marriage, and social norms) "killed the romantic comedy." It's an interesting argument, but what if the same shift in attitude that made _The Graduate_ incomprehensible to the middle-aged parents of 1967 made the romantic comedies of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s incomprehensible to their kids? Clooney never even considers the possibility.

The same problem sinks the chapter on _The Big Parade_, one of a cluster of films from the twenties and early thirties that painted war as bleak, unheroic, and tragic. Clooney credits such films with making the West slow to move against Hitler . . . but couldn't the too-fresh memories of 10 million young lives lost in a pointless war have been behind *both* the films and the hesitancy to go to war again? Clooney never stops to ask.

The book also suffers from sins of omission: Connections that seem so obvious and important you can't imagine why Clooney doesn't mention them. Why argue that the "Omaha Beach" scene in _Saving Private Ryan_ is powerful because of its realism, and *not* contrast it with the far more "Hollywood" battle scenes later in the picture? Why spend a chapter on the 1964 anti-war movie_Dr. Strangelove_ and not connect it to the nuclear-disarmarment movement that had been gaining strength since 1946? Why write about the impact of _Star Wars_ and talk only about computer-controlled cameras . . . not the "summer blockbuster" category that it (and _Jaws_) more or less created?

I study and write about popular culture for a living, but when I bought this book I *wasn't* expecting a scholarly tome. I was looking for something entertaining and thought-provoking to read at lunch . . . unfortunately, it isn't even a good lunchtime book.

The Language Police:  How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn
The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn
by Diane Ravitch
Edition: Hardcover
207 used & new from $0.01

27 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Noble Intentions, Flawed Execution, July 27, 2005
_The Language Police_ is both profoundly important and profoundly frustrating.

It is important because it calls attention to the fact that most public school textbooks are utterly wretched--boring, colorless, bland, and uninvolving--and reveals some of the reasons *why* that's the case. The story she tells will be old news to anyone who's spent much time in with their back to a chalkboard, but it will be new to manyu who aren't teachers, and deserves to be read widely. If your reaction to the publisher's blurb was something like: "Good grief! I had no idea!" then add another star to my rating.

If your response to the blurb is something along the lines of "So what else is new?" then subtract a star from my rating, since you may well share my frustrations . . .

The book is frustrating because Ravitch, squaring off against a complex problem that demands careful analysis, chooses to wield a sledgehammer instead than a scalpel. Her basic position seems to be that *all* attempts to regulate the language used in textbooks (however well-intentioned) are inherently misguided. She appears to resent the banning of "lumberjack" (which most people, me included, would regard as silly) with the banning of words like "cripple," and "retard" (which most people, me included, would regard as progress). The list of "banned words and phrases" she reprints as an appendix is bloated with outdated, gender-specific terms like "authoress" and "aviatrix," "coed" and "spinster" that no modern writer would use in the first place and epithets ("biddy," "codger") that you'd probably object to if some stranger applied them to your favorite relative.

It is also frustrating because Ravitch, in reviewing history textbooks, seems determined to do so from the narrowest possible perspective. Why, she repeatedly asks, do American history textbooks insist on recounting the pre-1500 achivements of Africans and Native Americans, but not those of Europeans? Most practicing historians would see the answer as obvious: Most Americans *know* that the Europeans were civilized by 1500, but many still cling to 19th century image of Africans and Native Americans as backward "savages" who were "uplifted" by contact with Europeans. The same blindness extends to individual matters of fact. She pooh-poohs textbook claims that the Anasazi had neither chiefs nor kings, yet undertook impressive ciivl engineering projects. "How could they?", she asks, overlooking the fact that 19th century Shaker communities were both technologically sophisticated *and* nonhierarchical. "How do we know about their social structure without written records?", she asks, overlooking the fact that archaeologists routinely infer social structures from material traces like exotic grave goods and monuments (or the lack of them).

Finally, it is frustrating because her suggestions for reform often seem divorced from reality. If every school district chose its own textbooks (as she recommends) would not the publishers *still* seek to produce a few one-size-fits-all, least-common-denominator products in each field (in order to lower production and marketing costs)? If every history teacher *did* choose to use two textbooks with divergent perspectives on the facts, who would keep the outraged parents--shrieking about "deconstructionism" and "relativism"--off their backs? She attacks Paul Boyer and other historians for quoting "anonymous sources" ("a farmer said . . .") in textbooks. What would students gain from knowing that the farmer's name was John Smith? She approvingly quotes Nat Hentoff (whom I normally admire) when he says that "Any writer who tailors his prose to someone else's guidelines belongs in advertising." Fine rhetoric, but a bit of a shock to journalists and scholars who keep the _AP Stylebook_ or the _MLA Manual of Style_ next to their keyboards.

The tragedy of Ravitch's book is that all this nonsense gets in the way of a powerful and important argument: The best way to get students excited is *not* to feed them solely on the intellectual equivalent of thin gruel, but to lay out a banquet of all the varied tastes and textures that exist on the printed page.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2013 10:54 PM PDT

50 Weapons That Changed Warfare
50 Weapons That Changed Warfare
by William Weir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.99
36 used & new from $0.04

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Introductory Survey, July 18, 2005
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This book, the work of a gifted amateur historian, gives you exactly what the title promises: Short (4-5 page) sketches of fifty different weapons that, in their day, revolutionized the way wars are fought. Each sketch includes a clear, non-technical description of what the weapon does and an explanation of its tactical impact, the latter illustrated by an account of the weapon in action. The fifty entries each stand on their own, but the book as a whole--read from cover to cover--is a good introductory survey of the history of weaponry.

Weir has, with this single book, met two important needs. It is the first introduction to this subject aimed at general readers rather than military professionals, historians, or "war buffs." It is also the first introductory book to attend to hard-to-research topics like the history of land mines, smokeless powder, and recoilless artillery. The book deserves--for these reasons--wide attention from school, college, and public librarians. It is a crucial stepping-stone to more sophisticated works like Robert O'Connell's _Arms and Men_, William McNeill's _The Pursuit of Power_, and Martin van Creveld's _Technology and War_.

Two persistent flaws diminish the book's value somewhat. The first is atrocious copyediting. "Theodolite" (a surveyor's tool) is rendered as "the odolite," the Japanese "supercarrier" Shinano is referred to three times in two pages as "Sinano," and a British soldier is described as being "invalidated" (rather than "invalided") out of the army as a result of his injuries. The second, more serious flaw is the near-total absence of line drawings that would reinforce the text by illustrating *how* specific weapons (or the tactics they spawned) work. Illustrations abound, but they generally add more atmosphere than enlightenment.

If introductory books on the history of weaponry were more numerous, these flaws woudl be more serious. As it is, Weir has the field virtually to himself, and the good points of his work far outweigh the bad.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4