What a great book! I've long had the habit of reading something Serious during daylight hours, then switching to an entertainment for the evening. But Jim Rasenberger's Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America upset my routine, and I had to put the latest Harry Bosch aside until the biography was done.
I've always admired Colt-the-company, not only for the famed "Peacemaker" worn by every self-respecting Hollywood cowboy but also for the AR-15 that it produced (though didn't invent) and that became the basis for the M-16 rifle and its descendants that have equipped the US Army for more than fifty years. But I knew little about Samuel Colt, a wild lad who went to sea and was flogged for stealing sweets; invented the modern pistol, with "a rotating cylinder containing several chambers" that would "discharge through one barrel"; raised the money to develop it by staging demonstrations of laughing gas; and acquired British and American patents for the device -- all by the time he was twenty-one! -- and in the process more or less invented the "American System" of manufacturing stuff on an assembly line, using interchangable parts. To be sure, this is subject to debate, thanks to Colt's habit of fabulizing, but Mr Rasenberger makes a formidable case for his version of the story. And he writes so well, swooping with apparent ease through wars both domestic and foreign, but especially those that so changed the United States in the second half of the 19th century. He irritated me by apologizing for the woke sin of writing about a weapon, and by referring to "muskets" in the hands of American soldiers during the Civil War, by which time any shoulder weapon with a grooved barrel was called a rifle. But those are small sins in one of the best biographies I've ever read.
Also reviewed this month: Dick Lehr's Dead Reckoning: The Story of How Johnny Mitchell and His Fighter Pilots Took on Admiral Yamamoto and Avenged Pearl Harbor; and War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier, in which John Ross thinks he has found the origins of US Army Special Forces. For these books, see the Warbird's Book Club. Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford
Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings: