BOOK REVIEW: 'American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms': Straight-Talking Chronicle of Weapons That Are Part of American History

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms': Straight-Talking Chronicle of Weapons That Are Part of American History

"God, Guts & Guns Made U.S. Free" -- Anonymous bumper sticker

Surviving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle and a companion were tragically  killed by a fellow veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD at a shooting range in Glen Rose, Erath County, Texas last Feb. 2.

Probably the most famous Navy SEAL sniper, Kyle was nearing completion with his newest book, written with William Doyle, "American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms" (William Morrow, 320 pages, illustrations, index, appendix with descriptions of the ten firearms, $29.99).     Link to July 25 story about the accused killer of Kyle and Chad Littlefield being indicted by a grand jury on capital murder charges:

With pungent prose that is as delightful to read as it is informative  Kyle, the #1 bestselling author of "American Sniper" tells stories from the American Revolution to the present day showing how ten legendary guns forever changed U.S. history.

"Perhaps more than any other nation in the world," Kyle writes in a book that 
shows how guns have played a fascinating, indispensable, and often underappreciated role in our national story, "the history of the United States has been shaped by the gun. Firearms secured the first Europeans' hold on the continent, opened the frontier, helped win our independence, settled the West, kept law and order, and defeated tyranny across the world."

Drawing on his unparalleled firearms knowledge and combat experience, Kyle  chose ten guns to help tell his story: the American long rifle, Spencer repeater, Colt .45 revolver, Winchester rifle, Springfield 1903 rifle, Thompson sub-machine gun, 1911 pistol, M1 Garand, .38 Special police revolver, and the M-16 rifle platform Kyle himself used as a SEAL.

Through them, he revisits thrilling turning points in American history, including the single sniper shot that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War, the firearms designs that proved decisive at Gettysburg, the "gun that won the West," and the weapons that gave U.S. soldiers an edge in the world wars and beyond. This is also the story of how firearms innovation, creativity, and industrial genius has constantly pushed American history—and power—forward.

If I were a history teacher on the high school or college level, I would try to get this book placed on a list of required reading. Given the mindset of  the educational bureaucracy, almost as frozen in its mindset as the "Boob-ocracy" that approved and rejected military weapons during much of the nation's history, according to Kyle, I'd probably fail. Talking about guns in an educational institution in the wake of recent school shootings is probably a third rail that few teachers want to approach.

If it were adopted, "American Gun," with its accounts of Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, the Marines at Belleau Wood in France in 1918, the gunfight at the OK Corral, the fate of the Dalton Gang of bank robbers in Coffeyville, Kansas, etc. would be a book that would be read, if kids do any reading today, that is! 

 Firearms hobbyists, target shooters like me and hunters will enjoy this book for its brief histories of the firearms, with unforgettable inventors like Samuel Colt, John Moses Browning, Christopher M. Spencer and Abraham Lincoln. Yes, Lincoln reveled in trying out new weapons in an improvised shooting range behind the White House, even suggesting improvements. Christopher Spencer, inventor of the Spencer repeating rifle, arrived at the White House on Aug. 18, 1863 and presented Lincoln with a rifle. The next day, the two men went to the target range and tried out the gun. Lincoln, a veteran of the Black Hawk War of 1832, shot well, writes Kyle, and Spencer shot even better.

 Having recently reviewed a book about the Glock pistol, I expected at least a mention on this ground-breaking gun from Austria. It's in there, in the chapter about the gun it replaced, the .38 Police Special revolver. For my Glock book review:

About Chris Kyle
SEAL Team 3 Chief Chris Kyle (1974-2013) served four combat tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom and elsewhere. For his bravery in battle, he was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation. Additionally, he received the Grateful Nation Award, given by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Following his combat deployments, he became chief instructor for training Naval Special Warfare Sniper and Counter-Sniper teams, and he authored the Naval Special Warfare Sniper Doctrine, the first Navy SEAL sniper manual. Born in Odessa, Texas, Kyle served as president of Craft International (, a world-class leader in training and security, while devoting much of his spare time to helping disabled veterans. Chief Kyle is survived by his wife Taya Kyle, who wrote the book's foreword,  and their two children. Website:  

About William Doyle
William Doyle is an award-winning author based in New York City. His books include "A Mission from God" the memoir of civil rights leader James Meredith, and "A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq."  He has also served as director of original programming and executive producer for HBO.

Details of Kyle's death, From Wikipedia: "On Saturday, February 2, 2013, Kyle and a companion, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed at the Rough Creek Ranch-Lodge-Resort shooting range in Erath County, Texas  by 25-year-old fellow veteran Marine Eddie Ray Routh, whom Kyle and Littlefield had purportedly taken to the gun range in an effort to help him with what they were told by his mother was post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Local police captured Routh after a short freeway chase, which ended when Routh, who had left the scene of the shootings in Kyle's Ford F-350 truck, crashed into a police cruiser. Routh was arrested just before 9 p.m. the same day in Lancaster, Texas.[25] Erath County sheriffs said the motive for the killing was unclear.[ Routh, from Lancaster [Texas], was arraigned February 2, 2013, on two counts of capital murder, according to Sgt. Lonny Haschel of the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was taken to the Erath County Jail for holding under a $3 million bond.[27]

A memorial service was held for Kyle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on February 11, 2013. Kyle was buried on February 12, 2013, in Texas State CemeteryAustin, Texas, after a funeral procession from Midlothian, Texas, to Austin, stretching over 200 miles. Thousands of local residents lined Interstate 35 to view the procession and pay their final respects to Kyle.

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