This is going to be a very short and sweet review. The Book of Swords by Hank Reinhardt is an incredibly good read for those of you interested in the history and development of pointy things. The major selling point of this book for me is that it reads like a friendly conversation. You get the feeling of sitting around a table while a man who has devoted most of his life to studying blades shares his knowledge with you. Yes, he rambles from time to time (as he admits himself) but all of those ramblings are just as interesting and informative as the rest of writing. I have read a great number of books on weapons and the history of arms over the years but this one has easily become my new favorite and taught me a few things I didn’t know.
If you’re wanting something dry and scholarly, keep looking. Some of Reinhardt’s theories are nothing more than guesstimates, based on a lifetime of study, but still guesstimates. However, he also actively tested his theories, hacking and slashing with replica weapons to find out how they really worked.
It is a shame he died so soon but it is fortunate that we have a book like this to share his life’s work.
I just finished reading The Normans: From Raiders to Kings (Full disclosure, I received a free review copy from Crux Publishing via Librarything.com) and I can heartily recommend this book. Most people probably have a very limited idea of who the Normans were, their knowledge not going beyond “those were the guys in the Bayeax Tapestry.”
Lars Brownworth‘s book fills in the gaps, and provides a detailed history of the Normans were. He also sets forth a convincing argument for how the Normans helped lead Western Europe out of the Dark Ages and into a place of prominence in the world.
The majority of the book revolves around the Hauteville family. This one family, descended from Vikings: conquered Sicily and Southern Italy; influenced events in Europe, Asia and Africa; and participated in the Norman conquest of England. You get separate chapters on each of the major family members, covering the high points of their lives in thorough detail. That leads to one of the quibbles I have with this book. When you give us a thorough telling of the life of say, Tancred of Hauteville and then follow it with a chapter covering the life of Tancred’s son William Iron-Arm there is bound to be repetition. Tancred had three sons that became legendary figures in their own right so this happens more than once in the book.
That is a minor thing though, especially when you consider that Brownworth has a very readable voice. The Normans conveys a lot of information but it always feels like it is telling you a stirring adventure – not lecturing you. Too many history books are dry and boring. This one feels very vibrant and exciting. It is an informative, excellent read and I recommend checking it out.
I recently finished reading the Kindle version of A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things that Can Seriously Mess You Up by John O’Bryan. I have mixed feelings about this book – which is odd. I jump at the opportunity to read about different ancient weapons. I have lots of books about medieval knights, Vikings, obscure Chinese throwing weapons, Indonesian and Filipino martial weapons. I even have catalogs from museum arms and armor exhibits. A book like this should be right up my alley – but it isn’t.
I can’t recommend this book because of O’Bryan’s language. He is going for a humorous approach. The subtitle drops a not so subtle hint. Any time you see a subtitle that contains the phrase “seriously mess you up” you can assume it is not going to be a dry, scholarly work, right? There is nothing wrong with that – if you want to have fun with your subject then go right ahead and have some fun. Unfortunately, O’Bryan’s idea of fun is to use the f-word over and over again to the point where it becomes tiresome. It strikes me as a young kid trying to prove how cool he is by cursing as often as he can. That is a shame because there are some funny lines that don’t contain any profanity elsewhere in the book. I’m not saying that people can’t curse. It’s just that O’Bryan’s use of curses seems needless and, ultimately, repetitive. That’s a shame because without the profanity this would have been a great book for younger kids interested in the subject.