Book Report: American Gunfight


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deano186
June 27, 2009, 02:52 AM
I just finished reading this book:

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and I'd like to tell you a little about it.

The crux of the story is a gunfight that took place between six Secret Service men and two Puerto Rican Nationalist's (today we'd probably call them terrorists) on the afternoon of November 1st, 1950.

The gunfight lasted less then 40 seconds, but the book goes into so much detail, not only about the fight itself, but everything that led up to it and followed from it and everything that was going on in the lives of the men involved that it takes up 321 pages of text (not including supplemental material and index) and many photographs.

Published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster, "American Gunfight - The Plot to Kill President Truman and The Shoot-out That Stopped It" by Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr (large paperback) carries a price of $15.00, but I found it at Half Price Books in Phoenix for about half that.

I really enjoyed this book and consider it very well written. The authors not only tell the story, but bring it to life very vividly. They flesh out the people so well you feel like you know them well before the shooting ever starts.

I even thought I could guess who would be the hero of the gunfight as it began to unfold, by then I felt I knew everyone involved better than I know my own neighbors at home. But, one thing this incident teaches you about real-world gunfights is that they seldom follow scripts or expectations.

I've read plenty of books about historical events that were informative, well written, and had valuable insights, but this book has something beyond that which you very rarely get. This book was created by people who know guns, are passionate about being as accurate, honest, and complete in depicting the guns, the men who used them, and what happened when they were used as possible.

Not only that, but the authors betray a certain passion for the art of the gun itself in their writing. Take this excerpt for example:

" ... So Les would pull on the trousers he'd hung so neatly the night before. He'd button on the freshly ironed white shirt. He'd tie his black tie tight. He'd put on his spit-shined black oxfords. He'd pull on his officer's coat, tailored by S. Livingston & Son, dark blue, worsted, designed for chilly fall weather of the sort that Washington should be, but was not this particular day, having. Finally he'd remove his belt and holster from the bureau where he placed it every single day. He'd pick up the six .38 Special 158-grain lead round-nose cartridges he's do carefully removed, open the action of the weapon--it was a Colt, the model called "Official Police," a sturdy, heavy, utilitarian revolver with four inches of barrel, checkered wood grip--and slide the six cartridges into the six chambers of the cylinder. Then he'd snap it closed, feeling the vaultlike lockup that was characteristic of American revolvers in those days."

In reading the book the one mild irritation is the way the authors had to cover so much preparatory ground before they could actually relate the the gunfight itself (the first shot is fired on page 131). Then they give you a few seconds of real-time action, but then diverge again to flesh out more of the back story before returning to the action. It was all very worth it in the end. The gunfight is eventually covered from every angle and the lessons that could have and should have been learned from it are discussed at length.

If you are interested in this kind of in-depth history you should read this book.

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