By the Sword is an epic history of sword fighting—a science, an art, and, for many, a religion that began at the dawn of civilization in ancient Egypt and has been an obsession for mankind ever since. With wit and insight, Richard Cohen gives us an engrossing history of the world via the sword. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (36)
The historical inaccuracies in this book are not minor errors to be overlooked in favor of modern jewels.Being an expert sport fencer niether makes one a swordsman nor a historian.This book is a glaring example of something I've seen all too often.Someone gains notoriety in a given subject and uses this notoriety to promote their opinions on other subjects.People see the "experts'" credentials and assume that the statements made by said "experts" must be true.The danger comes when future authors use such writings as research for their own works. These new authors' credentials are added to the list and the more they are quoted, the more credence is given to their statements, however unfounded they may be.The subject becomes exponentially corrupted until the truth becomes a hazey footnote that is all but impossible to find.
Difficult to put down
Because I'm not a historian but rather someone with an interest for the sport of fencing, I can't speak for the accuracy of the details within the pages of the book. As the author has openly admitted here, there were corrections to be made and he has done them. I applaud his honesty in acknowledging those errors and making the corrections.
That said, I personally have found myself completely engrossed and entertained by both the historic aspects and the non-handbook approach to the sport. While providing technical and historic details, it is done such in a way that the reader doesn't feel like he's in a lecture. I normally find 'history lessons' both dry and cumbersome but the tone of this book is wonderful done and richly expressed. It's apparent early on how much the author loves the sport and that passion is conveyed through his words. I don't recall when the last time I've been this excited reading a history book was. :)
I am roughly three-quarters of the way through and have already recommended this to several of my friends who are likewise interested in the sport.
A wide subject area that was different to my expectations
Richard Cohen attempted a major feat with this book and I believe that it was not up to the mark in all respects because of the breadth of subjects covered. An analogy would be writing a history of driving and having readers interested in one aspect complain that their pet subject was not covered enough. I fear that I am one of those readers. I bought the book with an interest in the combat use and development of the sword. While Cohen does write about that, it seemed that several thousands of years of western history were brushed over in a chapter with little coverage of the development and use of the sword. I also felt that he brushed over too quickly the early theorists and authors of sword fighting. The combat aspects werealso confined to mainly Western military history, while Napoleon must have seen something in the Mameluke sword as I believe that he carried one on many of his campaigns after Egypt.
I did enjoy the chapter on the making of swords with its background on Toledo and Solingen. It was interesting to hear about the fate of these sword making centres and the impact that gunpowder had on them. In Solingen's case in Germany it was obviously on the losing side in the First World War and only salvaged by the Nazi desire for ceremonial daggers before another more fatal demise of its swordsmithing under the occupation of Germany by the allies after the Second World War. He has probably not won any favours from the tourist councils of either region for destroying the image that some sword fans may have of these once famous centres of sword making.
In my view, Mr Cohen spends most of the book dealing with duels and individual fencing. For a book on such a broad subject it would have been a key question of balance on what to cover and what not to. In the interest of full disclosure I admit that I did not finish the book, as I was not really interested in the technicalities of duels nor in sport fencing, although I did read most of it. I personally would have found it interesting to see how the swords of different cultures fared when they met on the battlefield. I have read some stories of British officers foregoing firearms in India during battles to test their sword arms against native exponents.
The author does have a good writing style and the book was easy to read. While I am no expert like the others who have criticised the author for historical inaccuracies I thought that I had come across a few. I did not take much note of them, as Richard Cohen was travelling down a long path and he could be forgiven for missing the occasional minor fact.
If you are looking for a book that does focus on duelling and fencing then this is the book for you. If you are interested in the combat use of swords, especially in a non-western setting then this book will not satisfy you. I agree with the reviewer who said that there was not much from a non-western setting; samurais were essentially dealt with in a single chapter. Again, when contemplating purchasing this book think about a history of driving, it could not cover everything in depth and Richard Cohen's book is the same. I have given it three stars, mainly because I felt that it focused too heavily on duelling and fencing at the expense of combat and non-western swords. That may speak more about me than the book and I would add that I was torn between three and four stars.
Nice attempt, but quite bad overall
I'm a non-European fencer, having studied Japanese Swordfighting instead.I picked this book up because it purported to have information on Japanese fighting, and I was interested in reading about it.
So that was thrown out the window pretty quick, as this book is a definite European Fencing book.It has 2 chapters on japanese work, and it is very high level and not useful.
But I read the book anyway, attempting to learn about European fencing.Overall, the author tries hard, but the book is unorganized and tries to use a shotgun, when a rifle would have been suited.It seems like the author was attempting to put a feather in his already immpressive career.
I did NOT know that.
This is the coolest book I've ever read about anything so technical.It really is a technical book but it is absolutely absorbing.I could have read at least 5 more chapters.I started out by checking it out of my local library and after having it out forever I bought my own.It's full of tidbits about modern fencing and sword craftsmanship (I would love to go to Bavaria and be a sword maker now) to the craziest stories from history that are true!Once you start reading you can't stop!
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