In the current conflict, no American warfighter emerged with a more recognizable name than Chris Kyle, a SEAL who set an awesome kill record as a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book “American Sniper” became a huge bestseller, and not just among military and shooter folk. The story of a young man who came to terms with killing other people to keep them from killing his people struck a responsive chord throughout our society. (If you haven’t read it, do.)
He captured the nation’s attention again a few months ago when, home stateside and working hard to help vets who came back damaged, Kyle and a friend took a PTSD-suffering veteran to the range at his request. They became victims of cowardly murder at that man’s hands.
At the time of his death, Chris Kyle was working on a second book which celebrated his life-long understanding and appreciation of firearms. His wife and friends finished the job, and “American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms” came out this week. The partial manuscript was completed by a team that loved him and understood him: his young widow Taya, and his friends William Doyle and Jim DeFelice.
I was in a Barnes & Noble this past Monday, and even though they had cases already in stock, they adamantly refused to sell me one until Tuesday, the scheduled release date. So, on Tuesday, in another city, I got to another book store and bought a copy.
It lives up to its title.
“American Gun” smoothly weaves firearms development with the history and needs which drove that development. Though it focuses on ten iconic firearms, each is set into the context of generations of development before and after that specimen. Kyle and company make clear how the guns were used, by whom, and for what purpose. Famous battles and shootouts are described, not to revel in morbid bloodshed, but to illustrate how understanding of human conflict led to the creation of better fighting tools.
Like Kyle’s first book, this one does not appear to be written so much for the specialist in the field, though that reader will certainly appreciate it. It seems to have been written more for the person new to the topic. It clearly shows that the gun is a tool, its effect driven by the people who use it. The Thompson submachine gun favored by Al Capone and John Dillinger was considered a life-saver by the Americans of The Greatest Generation who used it to help defeat the Nazis on one side of the world and simultaneously avenge Pearl Harbor on the other. The book makes clear how the duality of the gun, in that respect, is simply an allegory for the duality of Man.
I hope this book becomes a huge best-seller, too. More Americans need to understand what Chris Kyle was trying to tell us when he died, a message I thank Taya Kyle and William Doyle and Jim DeFelice for finishing and bringing to a nation which desperately needs to understand it.