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Jeremy Scott Steimel

Location: Champaign, IL
Joined: 24 Jan 2004

Posts: 105

PostPosted: Tue 22 Mar, 2005 1:15 pm    Post subject: Book Question: "By The Sword" by Richard Cohen         Reply with quote

During a trip to the local Borders this weekend to browse for some Indie music, I happened to see the book By The Sword, by Richard Cohen, on display. I had never heard of this book, so I took an admittedly very brief glance through to get a feel for the subject matter.

It seemed like it could be a pretty interesting ready. What I saw did not attempt to get too in-depth with sword manufacture, typology, or even martial arts techniques. While all those were covered, it seemed like the main focus was on the role the sword played in the culture of its time, its ceremonial influence, and so forth.

Has anyone read this book? I'm pondering picking it up, but I'm curious to hear others' thoughts.

Take care,

Dum spiro, spero
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Nate C.

Location: Palo Alto, CA
Joined: 13 Jun 2004

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PostPosted: Tue 22 Mar, 2005 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have the book in question and it is an interesting read. I may even have time to finish it soon Big Grin Laughing Out Loud . It mainly talks about the characters, myths and, stuff that the sword created more than the sword itself. It's more of a "sword's place in society" type of book as opposed to a "this is what a sword is" type of book. If I remember correctly, it mainly covers the european sword although Japanese is mentioned as well. It also covers classical/sport fencing including some of the dynasties in the sport. I'd say it's pretty good for a more contextual type of impression of swords and swordplay than about swords themselves.

Just my $.02.


Nate C.

Sapere Aude
"If you are going to kill the man, at least give him a decent salute." - A. Blansitt

If they ever come up with a Swashbuckling School, I think one of the courses should be Laughing, then Jumping Off Something. --Jack Handy
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Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team

myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

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PostPosted: Tue 22 Mar, 2005 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I own it. It's got it's ups, and it's got it's downs.

Cohen is a very good descriptive writer, and I really like his style. His anecdotes on the history of modern fencing are fantastic, as is his telling of late period duelling. But dear god, his scholarship of pre-18th c. fencing is horrendous.

The first couple chapters are pretty bad, making comments about ridiculously heavy armor and swords, stating that no one bothered to parry in the middle ages but instead relied on brute strength, and that the parry was not invented until the Renaissance (I believe he says Marozzo invented it, which is silly), etc. He claims that la Verdadera Destreza, the Spanish rapier arts, are incomprehensible.

So read it with a grain of salt, as it's still an entertaining book.
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Sam Barris

Location: San Diego, California
Joined: 29 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Sun 27 Mar, 2005 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree that it was an interesting and entertaining book. I also agree with Mr. Grandy's assessment of its weaknesses. His comments about the Spanish school were a bit unfair, I thought. He also spent an inordinate amount of time on early Hollywood and stage fighting on screen. Not that those aren't important topics to consider, but I would have liked a bit more in the way of historical accuracy and a more in-depth account of the philosophy behind the art, since those have sustained my intrest far more than Errol Flynn was able to. (No disrespect intended toward the great Captain Blood.) I thought it did an excellent job with the recent history of modern sport fencing, so if you're interested in men like Aldo Nadi, you're in luck! As for everything before then, it kind of falls flat. A horse's armor did not weigh 450 pounds. Honestly, it reads almost like it was written a few decades ago, and it presents many of the myths, stereotypes and misconceptions that have been mostly cleared up in the past twenty years or so. And if I can say this without sounding rude, it reads exactly like you'd expect a book written by a British sport fencer to read. He really reminds me a lot of my fencing coach in college. All things considered, it was a good book. But the grain of salt is a good idea.
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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