Swords and Swordsmen

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Pen & Sword Military, 2010 - History - 494 pages
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This magnificent book tells the story of the evolution of swords, how they were made, how they were used, and the people that used them. It doesn't claim to give comprehensive coverage but instead takes certain surviving examples as landmarks on a fascinating journey through the history of swords. Each is selected because it can be linked to a specific individual, thus telling their story too and giving a human interest. So the journey starts with the sword of Tutankhamun and ends with the swords of J E B Stuart and George Custer. Along the way we take in Henry V, Cromwell and Uesugi Kenshin, and there is the most detailed discussion you'll find anywhere of all of George Washington's swords. The chapters on these specific swords and swordsmen are alternated with more general chapters on the changing technical developments and fashions in swords and their use. The reader's guide on this historical tour is Mike Loades. Mike has been handling swords most of his life, as a fight arranger, stuntman and historical weapons expert for TV and stage. He considers the sword as a functional weapon, work of art, fashion statement and cultural icon. As much as his profound knowledge of the subject, it is his lifelong passion for swords that comes through on every page. His fascinating text is supported by a lavish wealth of images, many previously unpublished and taken specifically for this book.

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Sword devotees, fan and scholars all likely have their favourite sword or 'type' of sword. Mike Loades recent submission entitled, 'Swords and Swordsmen' likely has something for everyone! This beautifully presented work features high quality photographs and imagery which accompany a text spanning many boundaries in both time and space. This lovely book takes us on a journey which begins in antiquity with an explorative look at, the swords and sword culture of the ancient Egyptians. The book goes further however, as it offers us a glimpse into many other areas of their lives and culture as well! This is done seamlessly without breaking stride or losing sight of the topic, but rather, weaves elements such as social context into the tapestry of a particular sword culture.
Not unlike a textual Westward expansion, the reader's journey continues onward to Greece and Rome and forward into the Iron Age. Continuing the journey both westward and forward readers are offered a tantalizing view not only of the history and development of the sword but, of the history and development of peoples and cultures. Never losing the sword as the focal point of his work, Mr. Loades incorporates cultural elements which strengthen the readers understanding of how swords effected cultural development at multiple stratospheric levels of societal living. Readers meet the Celts, the Vikings and Crusading Knights as they travel through time, from the Iron Age into (and through), the Mediæval era. As the Mediæval world gives way to the Renaissance, many changes occur with regards to the history and development of the sword. It seems only fitting that at this point in the book, the reader's journey is abruptly changed as well. The journey West is briefly interrupted as the reader is off on an exhilarating foray into the ethnographic edged weapons of the far east.
After a brief but fascinating look at the sword culture and development of the far east, the reader is once again taken westward for an insightful look at the development of honour culture and the dueling ethos. The reader is continually advanced through time (and towards the west) as the rise of dueling weapons such as the rapier, give way to the smallsword and the western world of the past expands to include the Americas. In keeping with the title, this is not only a tome about swords, but also, about the men who wielded them. Readers are offered introduction to many of the great leaders who shaped the world in which we now live. I will not offer the entire "who's who?" list of names but, will rather tease he potential reader by suggesting that you will begin your introductions with Tutankhamun, continue onward, meeting many along the way, until you will meet none other than George Washington, and the journey only continues from there!
If there is any flaw to be found with this writing, it would be, that at just under 500 pages the vast scope of such a work is somewhat 'muted' in the interest of not producing an encylopædic work. The result of this however, is a volume in which, the author makes good use of the briefly allotted chapter size. Descriptions are clear, concise and seldom given to tangents or 'flights of fancy'. While it is apparent throughout, that the author could say a good deal more, the book does not convey any sense that key or important information has been omitted. What does seem apparent (and indeed tantalizing) is that Mr. Loades undoubtedly has within him the capacity to enthrall the reader yet again with future writings. One can only remain hopeful that he will indeed produce future volumes.
As stated at the outset of this review, many historians, scholars and students of the sword, no doubt have their favourites. Those who favour a particular sword, type of sword, or even period of history might find more information in a work dedicated solely to that topic. What readers will be hard pressed to discover elsewhere however, is an author who writes with more passion about their
 

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About the author (2010)

Mike Loades is best known as the presenter of Weapons that Made Britain and Weapon Masters, but has appeared in dozens of other documentaries as an historical weapons expert and military historian. As a fight arranger he has choreographed fight and battle sequences (most of which involved swords!) for over a hundred television productions, plays and operas. He has also directed several historical documentaries for National Geographic and History Channel. He has lectured and written widely on arms and armour, contributing to both periodicals and books. Swords and Swordsmen is his first full-length, solo book. Although British, Mike now lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and dogs, where he continues to work on various television and writing projects.

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