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Doug Lester

Location: Decatur, IL
Joined: 12 Dec 2007

Posts: 167

PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 1:52 pm    Post subject: Swords and Swordsmen by Mike Loades         Reply with quote

I have just finished reading the above book and, not seeing it come up in a search, would like to start a general discussion on it in the way of a review. To start with, it comes across as being very well written Mr. Loades does seem to be widely experienced but I kept hitting little things that were disturbing.

One is that, even though he claims to have worked with multiple smiths in researching the book there are some statements that seem off. Like that steel, as forged, is brittle. I'm a bladesmith, I know better. That and other statements like pearlite comes from the low carbon core in a samurai sword and not from the heat treating process. He also states that a samurai sword is not ground in it's production..

Then there are things like a long sword being carried and drawn from a scabbard carried on the back. He also made a statement that an arquebus had a range of 200 yards. As an absolute statement that is probably true in that they could probably even propel a ball even farther than that but, from my understanding, accurate range was probably no greater than about 50 yards.

Some of his research seems to be quite good though. He knew that General Custer headed off General Stuart's attack on the rear of the Union lines to support Pickett's charge. Which is something that is frequently over looked by American authors. Though it could be debated as to how much this would have helped had Stuart been able go get into the Union rear.

I'm just wondering are there other historical errors that I'm not spotting due to my own lack of knowledge in the area or is this a good work with a few flaws How have others found this book?
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Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team

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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even Oakeshott was wrong on some points. We have to weigh such flaws against the good. I think ML has done great service to arms and armour education, even if he had done nothing but "Weapons That Made Britain". The new(ish) book appears to be another popular way to involve young readers, in particular, in the history of the sword. If pearlite and arquebus effective range are the main technical problems we've come a long, long way indeed. The persistence of the back scabbard myth is to be laid at Hollywood's door, and ML does work primarily in that industry, as far as I can tell. Not too surprising that it would slip into his work. I haven't seen the reference, but it's possible that it's just poorly worded, either by ML or by an editor who misinterpreted something ML wrote.

On the brittleness point, I wonder if he was referring to either work-hardening or the first heat treatment before tempering. He emphasized the latter point in his discussion of armour in WTMB. Again, there may be a problem with condensing technical information for a general audience.


"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Marik C.S.

Location: Germany
Joined: 16 Feb 2010

Posts: 163

PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was pretty sure that I wouldn't have missed such a thing so I just read up on the section about the Landsknechte - I guess that's the chapter you mean when talking about two-handed swords.

There is no mention of a sword being worn over the shoulder in a scabbard as you might find it in Hollywood - or some rather brilliant polish videogames and books featuring a white haired mutant - but rather just the sword being carried over the shoulder. Together with the accompanying pictures that makes it sound more like a bare blade carried on the shoulder without a scabbard. That would also make more sense regarding the comment about rainwater flowing down the blade. If you carry the blade on your shoulder with the ricasso resting against your neck you might have water trickling down your collar.

I'm quite sceptical of scabbards on two-handed swords anyhow, the parierhaken would either leave the ricasso outside the scabbard - as you see on the Cold Steel two-hander - or you need a scabbard with no sides. But that's another story.

Europe - Where the History comes from. - Eddie Izzard
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Raman A

Location: United States
Joined: 25 Aug 2011

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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 7:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Loades has worked on Hollywood stuff? What titles?

I haven't read this book yet but I think Weapons That Made Britain is an excellent series. I don't agree with him 100% on everything, which probably has more to do with the amazingly broad topics he has to present in an amazingly short amount of time. It causes him to condense and over-simplify. For instance, in the sword episode I believe he centers the episode around a battle fought almost exclusively in full plate armor but only discusses and shows unarmored sword techniques. He makes it clear that plate armor is sword-proof but then never really talks about how you deal with that besides briefly mentioning that blows to the head might have some sort of blunt trauma effect.
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D. S. Smith

Location: Central CA
Joined: 02 Oct 2011

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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I ordered the book and while it's decent, it is not quite what I was hoping for as someone new to swords. In fairness, I haven't read the book cover to cover yet (I skip around). What I noticed though is that he spends a good portion of it speaking about the history of a few specific famous swords. I was really hoping for a lot more info on the day to day historical use of a sword. If I'd had a chance to review the book in person I honestly don't think I would have spent that amount on it. But keep in mind this is just a new guy's perspective.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them,
In the halls of Valhalla!
Where the brave may live forever!
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 11:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Persnally I found it a great overview of the sword in a wide range of cultures and times and I liked the way it was laid out.

I nice simple book to read, but still with good depth.

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Doug Lester

Location: Decatur, IL
Joined: 12 Dec 2007

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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 12:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, one of the things that I feel was good about this book was that Mr. Loades did not spend pages getting into the development of various swords. He chose a persons from various periods of history and used them to illustrated the development and use of swords from that period. He didn't get lost in all the minute of sword blade and handle morphology. There are other books for that if it's important.

I really didn't want to make this a discussion of Mike Leads, even though it's hard not to discuss the author when discussing a book. I know that some things are more important, or at least more noticeable, to one group of readers than to others but I, as a bladesmith, did find his mistakes about metallurgy a little disturbing. There are some statements, like the statement as to the range of the arquebus, that I wish I could ask him what he meant by them. Then there are things like what is properly called a claidheamh mor, aka claymore, which could be argued from the left, right, and middle until all sane people have long sense quit caring. What I wanted to get started was a discussion of this book as an academic work.
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Mark T

PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2011 12:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Doug: it's a while since I've read it, but my recollections are:

    - A few insights into military strategy and tactics in relation to sword use not always covered in other sources (but, sometimes annoyingly, not sourced ... and often explicitly stated as being supposition based on experimentation ... not a bad way to get insight, but not necessarily an accurate way to interpret historical practice). Could possibly have done with comparing notes with people more actively engaged in interpreting historical texts during the last decade or so.

    - A few errors as you've flagged, some of which would probably be considered to be 'howlers' by most myA long-timers. I can't now recall what they were ... but they were frequent and/or worrying enough to have me confused about exactly how much of the text Toby Capwell saw before agreeing to write the foreword, and thinking about posting a review at the time.

    - A wonderful source for some illustrations I'd not seen elsewhere. Given how much we can learn from illustrations (taken in context), any source of new illustrative material is valuable, whatever the limitations of the text.

    - Somewhere between, say, Michael Tinker Pearce's The medieval sword in the modern world and Hank Reinhardt's The book of swords on one end of a simple continuum, and Amberger's The secret history of the sword at the other.
(Note that I'm not proposing this as some continuum that would be useful elsewhere ... just in terms of making sense of Mike's book.)
Overall, a good, if not always accurate, way to while away an afternoon in a hammock.

Mark T

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Moses Jones

Location: Oregon
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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2011 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book and it is incredibly well written and in my opinion very interesting. Mr Loades takes the reader on an adventure through time with a variety of important characters. He explores the mindset of these historical figures and is not afraid to show their humane side along with their dark side. In addition you get a clear picture of not only the weaponry of the day and how it was used but he explores what it is like to live in a given period. Overall I'm enjoying the book very much, the only thing I wish Mr Loads would have done is site his sources.
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