American Gun

A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms

by Chris Kyle and William Doyle

Paperback, 18 pages, HarperCollins, List Price: $15.99 | purchase

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Title
American Gun
Subtitle
A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms
Author
Chris Kyle and William Doyle

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Hardcover, 302 pages, HarperCollins, $29.99, published June 4 2013 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
American Gun
Subtitle
A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms
Author
Chris Kyle and William Doyle

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Book Summary

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle examines the most important American firearms. He uses them as a window into United States history and shows how the American story has been tied to, and shaped by, guns.

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1 week on NPR Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List

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Excerpt: American Gun: A History Of The U.S. In Ten Firearms

Introduction

More than any other nation in history, the United States has been shaped by the gun. Colonists used firearms to secure their land, then turned them on the King and his men to win their independence. Cowboys and plain folk used revolvers and rifles to survive in the West, putting food on the table, fighting off Indians, and occasionally settling squabbles. After America came of age as a world power, we used guns to beat Hitler and subdue terrorists across the world.

Of course, there is another part to the story — firearms have also torn us apart, literally and figuratively. The Civil War, bank robberies, assassination attempts — the gun has been a tool for bad as well as good.

I first learned how to handle guns from my dad, who started teaching my brother, Jeff, and myself how to hunt and shoot before we could even ride bikes. He taught us to respect weapons as important tools, and part of that respect was knowing just a little bit about the history of the gun. I can't swear that knowing Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse invented the first bolt-action rifle made me a better shot with one, but I do know that the tidbits of information I picked up along the way fired (if you'll excuse the pun) a powerful fascination with our nation's history. One of my proudest possessions is a replica Peacemaker — the famous Colt revolver that defined the Wild West. Take that bad boy in your hand and you're transported back a hundred and fifty years.

There's a saying that to really know someone you have to walk a mile in their shoes. I'd add that to really know our ancestors, we have to put on more than their shoes, which were generally poor-fitting and leaky. Hitch a plow to an ox and work a field for a few hours, and you come away with a whole new appreciation for what your great-great-grandpa did come spring on the Ohio frontier. Pick up a Kentucky long rifle and aim it at fleeing whitetail, and you'll learn real quick about how important it is to use every bit of an animal you harvest; you may not have another one down for quite a while.

When I decided to do this book, I didn't want to write a stodgy textbook, or sound like the teachers who used to put me to sleep in the back of the classroom. I aimed to talk history with the bullets flying: the critical single rifle shot of the Revolutionary War; the climaxes of the Battle of the Alamo and Custer's Last Stand; Abraham Lincoln's personal shooting range on the White House grounds. I wanted to explore some of the greatest U.S. military battles of the twentieth century; the St. Valentine's Day massacre; and the North Hollywood bank robbery and shootout in 1997, which caused American police forces around the country to radically rethink their approach to firearms self-defense, and to gear up for combat.

To write this book, I traveled deep into American history. A team of friends and I read thousands of pages of historical documents, books, journals, military reports, and long-forgotten letters. I talked to firearms historians and reenactors, and I poked around museums and archives on the history of guns in America. I also had the thrill of personally handling and shooting many of these weapons.

I reached back into my own past, recalling gun stories we SEALs traded around a campfire in the middle of the combat zone in Iraq, and the tales my dad told me about our Texas ancestors and the guns they relied on. In the process I've learned to better appreciate the courage of the men and women who made America.

As I got further into this project, it became increasingly clear to me that guns have always been present at the leading edge of American history — often crucially. And along the way, certain revolutionary firearms seemed to shape the story of America more than all others.

I've picked ten guns to serve as the flagship weapons for our tour of America's past. Now, I have to say, it's my personal list. If you're a gun-history buff, you'll agree with some of my choices and disagree with others. I'm sure you'll be scratching your head wondering why in the hell I didn't talk about this Remington or that Smith & Wesson. I understand completely. A top-ten list is tough to settle on, and you may come up with a list of your own you like much better.

But that's enough of a preamble. Let's get 'er done.

—C.K.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

On February 2, 2013, as this book was nearing its final stages, Chris Kyle was killed. A book may seem a small thing after a tragedy such as this. But American Gun was a piece of Chris that lay unfinished; and it was a project that was born out of his passions. For these reasons, there was never a question of whether we would see the book through to publication. Taya Kyle, his incredible wife, affirmed this immediately. She brought in Jim DeFelice, Chris's coauthor on American Sniper, to team with William Doyle and wrap up the manuscript. Many of Chris's friends were graciously on call to confirm facts and offer their insights. We believe we got the book right, but any errors are our own.

Lastly, no shadow hangs over these pages, despite the circumstances. Chris was full of more life, humor, and love of country than anyone who'll ever cross your path. That's the spirit you'll be lucky enough to meet as you turn the page.

From American Gun: A History Of The U.S. In Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle, William Doyle, Jim DeFelice and Taya Kyle. Copyright 2013 by TK CT Legacy, LLC. Excerpted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.