Firearms : An Illustrated History - book review

Firearms: An Illustrated History is a beautifully produced book that is guaranteed to provide many an hour of entertaining reading and browsing. Whether the reader is a firearms or history enthusiast, this book will provide an impressive overview of the history of firearms and their development. At 320 pages, there is more than enough space to profile history’s best-known firearms as well as the unique,  obscure and bizarre.

The book is organized chronologically, dating from early cannons all the way up to modern day firearms with information on over 300 weapons including their country of origin, dates of use, physical dimensions, caliber and individual brief vignettes.s. It is then sub-divided into sections on different types of firearm such as percussion cap pistols, sporting arms, and specific cultural weapons.

Gatling Gun

There are also two paged sections that show in disassembled detail historically significant weapons, such as the Colt M1911, the M1911 pistol, the  AK-47 and the Luger. There are also some full page photos depicting historical events or scenes from history that showcase some firearms.

Firearms also systematically examine attempts to improve weapon design and performance. The book highlights individuals who made significant advancements in firearm design and performance such as Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson and is not limited to Western weapons. You also have the opportunity to examine Chinese, Indian and other gun makers from around the world.

Matchlock Musket

As with any Smithsonian / Dorling Kindersley collaboration, the real value in the book is found in the amazing photographs of the weapons themselves and most are in full color. The pre–Industrial Revolution firearms, in particular, are incredibly beautiful works of art, richly detailed with intricate scrollwork, ornamentation or inlays. By comparison, today’s “function over form” design approach to weapons design appears very basic For example, while a Holland and Holland rifle is no match for an M4 carbine in a combat environment, the hunting rifle looks much better mounted over the fireplace. Firearms: An Illustrated History includes many period photographs and paintings depicting weapons manufacturing or the weapons’ use on the battlefield, on the hunt and on even in movies.


As the book’s title implies, Firearms: An Illustrated History, is not a technical manual or purchaser’s guide as there is no information on weapon maintenance, buying or selling. Nor do the authors weigh the merits, social cost, morality or ethics associated with firearms. Regardless, the book will serve well as a ready reference on firearms, albeit with limited information on most weapons.

The book’s jacket further contains two exclusive colored 8” x 11” prints of the Smith and Wesson Model 10 and the Colt Single Action Army Model 1873—suitable for framing.

If you know of a gun enthusiast or are one yourself, I think your $30.00 would be wisely spent here.