American Rifle: A Biography
© 2008 Alexander Rose
The quintessential American firearm is the rifle, which through centuries of colonization and growth, has served in both myth and fact. I use myth not in the modern disparaging sense, but rather its traditional and valuable sense: myth as meaning. The rifle is the perfect complement to the American legend of the ‘rugged individualist’ — whether he’s a sharpshooter, taking down British officers in the Revolutionary War, or a plains pioneer, defending his family from wolves or bringing home supper. American Rifle: A Biography is a fulsome history of how rifles in America evolved and entrenched themselves, and grew both in culture estimation and in technical sophistication. The rifle’s technical maturation is the book’s primary focus, but culture enters in often, as we learn about the NRA originally organizing to train the American public into marksmen, and the German military’s influence on American military organization. German arms also inspired one American rifle, as well as a Soviet piece, the AK-47. Slowing the book down atimes is the extensive coverage of sludgy bureaucracy that new advances had to get through to become the official service weapon of the military, and this sludge becomes progressively thicker throughout the years. It’s thus a… challenging read for the potential reader who isn’t a total rifle enthusiast, and my interest peaked with the M1 Garand. I spent two months trying to move from 1940 to 2003, through the mire of extensive debates between Europe and America on what should be the official round of NATO, followed by the problems of the M14.