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Swords and Swordsmen
by Mike Loades

This magnificent book tells the story of the evolution of swords, how they were made, how they were used, and the people that used them. It doesn't claim to give ...

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A history of the European (including American) sword from the very beginning, through to the 19th century. It's written as a series of chapters focussing on a narrow topic, featuring the sword or swords of an individual (or a couple of people). As a result, the coverage is uneven - it delves into the individual topics in much more depth that would be expected in a broad general history of the same coverage. It doesn't sacrifice breadth or generality, since it's a long book. The focus topics are chosen well, and cover the main story. There is an anomalous chapter on Japanese swords which doesn't match the rest, or even help the rest by useful comparison. It looks like Loades chose to indulge in a little needless katanaphilia. Still, it doesn't hurt - think of it as a bonus "extra feature". A single chapter survey of the swords of the rest of the world might have been more useful. The individual swords and swordsmen are treated fairly superficially, so don't look here for an in-depth examination of these specimens - they're there as a focus for the chapter.

To compare with some of the other sword books out there, it isn't a picture book. It's well illustrated, but the text is central. Compared to Oakeshott's Archaeology of Weapons, it's more gloriously illustrated (colour photos instead of drawings), and has a broader focus. More scholarly (and better illustrated and produced as well) than Reinhardt's Book of Swords. In places, it's very re-enactorish, when Loades writes about his personal experience and experimentation. It's a good pop-history book, more depth, more real info, more real knowledge than most.

Too many errors for my taste, such as all longswords having blades of over 40 inches in length, the 1840 "wristbreaker" being over 2kg. In one sense, these are minor, or even trivial. On the other hand, errors like these get repeated, and become part of the body of (mis-)knowledge. These are also hard to check - no sources are referenced (as I said, it's a pop-history book).

So, overall, an excellent book, but not the best. The flaws are minor, and the book would make a great addition to a small library on the topic. Might be a good choice as a sole book on the Euro-American sword, and hopefully not too many readers swallow the errors uncritically.
—Updated Jan 2, 2011

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