Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk
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Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  139 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Barbara Holland guides us lightheartedly through the touchy subject of honor - and how to defend it - in this compulsively readable history of dueling's first thousand years.

The medieval justice of trial by combat evolved into the private duel by sword and pistol, with many thousands of honorable gentlemen facing each other ready to die - or to kill - to wipe out an insult

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Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2003)
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Jennifer Petkus
Somewhat after the fact, I’m reading Barbara Holland’s Gentlemen’s Blood: A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk, published in 2004. I should have read it before writing The Affair of the Code Duello, but fortunately I didn’t seem to have committed any major faux pas.

The book is quite entertaining, with Holland’s snarky style that never lets you guess whether she admires or despises the insanity of two men leveling guns at twelve paces. She gives wonderful examples of famous...more
Kagan Taylor
written in a voice I associate with the vapid reporter from harry potter, or one of those "archeology professors" who just happen to be hanging around Pompeii and will tell you where all the seeexxxx happened, with the sleazy glee of someone exposing an extramarital affair.
Miroku Nemeth
Holland ends the book with the thought that dueling should perhaps be revived in society, and there are parts of me that agree, especially in circumstances where it would be better for leaders to duel rather than trillions of dollars to be spent on destruction and hundreds of thousands of lives to be lost.

”’In October of 2002, when America’s relations with Iraq were sliding quickly toward war, the Iraqi vice president suggested settling the conflict with a double duel: “A president against a pre...more
Sam Kabo Ashwell
As histories go, this tends rather towards the anecdotal, with good yarns predominating; this has a lot to do with the nature of the material (this is not a subject much adorned with reliable eyewitnesses). Holland can certainly tell a good yarn. The book rolls along easily, is entertaining; there is much snark (not top-shelf snark, but serviceable) at the silliness and brutality of duels, balanced by a strong appreciation of the social reasons for them. At times there's the feeling of a few too...more
Stephanie
Both historical and contemporary viewpoints with a heavy dose of social commentary throughout. Humorous, thought provoking, informative and occasionally a bit wide of the mark, nonetheless quite enjoyable. Not at all dry.

You really do need to read all the way through this, the recitals of various famous duels are especially funny and often biting. THe commentary is quite dry and witty, poking fun at the participants, the attitudes and the countries involved impartially.

The social conclusions at...more
Michelle
This is quite informative and chronicles the development of dueling from the middle ages to present day. The author really details the social impact of dueling as well and how it moved from being a knightly activity in the middle ages, to something the idle nobles were expected to engage in in later centuries, to the wild west shootouts. Holland also does a great job of explaining the nuances that developed between various European countries, and later the united States, with regard to the speci...more
Converse
If carried out according to certain social conventions, a fight may be a duel. Dueling in western civilization apparently was an outgrowth of the judicial trial by combat, where God was presumed to favor the innocent with victory (I don't know if other cultural traditions have something similar to dueling, and the author doesn't discuss the matter). There also seems to be some connection to jousting between knights, but I was a bit confused about the author's discussion, as it didn't seem to qui...more
Ted
Killjoys may take issue with the author's breezy tone, but this is supposed to be a fun book, and it is. If you want to read something by a stodgy historian, look elsewhere. This one contains loads of amusing anecdotes and juicy trivia. For example, who knew that future President James Monroe considered challenging then-President John Adams to a duel? And I hadn't known that the Hamilton-Burr duel took place right where Hamilton's eldest son had been killed in a duel three years earlier.

That sai...more
Douglas
Really sharp, concisely written history. A thousand tiny, interesting stories. A wonderful, thought-provoking look at something embedded in our culture and yet perversely foreign to modern thinking.

I am only half-way through. So far I'd give it an A+ on the history and the questions it makes me ask myself.

So far I'd give it only a B+ on the detailed philosophical exploration of those questions... the part that will really grab me. Or maybe I'm supposed to do that work myself... we'll see...
Christian
Really fun anecdotal read regarding dueling. That being said, this is an example of poor historiography and is filled with conjecture posed by the author. The conclusion at the end is pulled out of nowhere and ties no really connections to anything that precedes it. The stories are fun but you would be hard pressed to rely on this author's interpretation as being anything close to the truth.
Carolyn
It was readable, as nonfiction goes, and fairly interesting.Not a gripper, read in one sitting type though. The social commentary in the afterward seemed a bit silly to me but I suppose a nonfiction writer feels the need to put their opinion in somewhere. I think most males work out their aggression in sports
David
Great book. Certainly thought-provoking, on the way society deals with conflict today vs. even a hundred years ago. It's an interesting glimpse into a very significant aspect of society for at least the last several hundred years. But most interesting are the dozens of personal stories ending in physical conflict that make up the body of the book.
g026r
A little too Ameri-centric (OK, far too Ameri-centric for a book that bills itself as a general history of dueling), a little too much unsubstantiated opinion in the closing chapters, and a little too flippant and breezy in tone. Picked it up from the discount table, and frankly I think I was overcharged.
Kristopher
Holland writes very well. This book was about a fascinating subject and she did a great job with it. I particularly liked the point she made toward the end, and I feel that her idea would have a huge impact upon today's society. All in all a really well-written book.
Adam Schreck
Rating: scholarly work/academic unearthing, 4.0

Writing style/prose: 1.5

Sound content and well researched but with an extremely dry approach; a shame, this is a book that could have sung with a bit more adventurous--nay, cavalier--pen.
Sandra
This is a fantastic history -- enlightening, startling, amusing.

Sandra Gulland

Author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun
Website: http://www.sandragulland.com/
Blog: http://sandragulland.blogspot.com/
Richard
A breezy rundown of the history of dueling. You meet some great characters along the way and hear some great stories. Not a deep examination of the subject, but a very entertaining one.
Brandon
I loved taking anecdotes from the book and relating them to my journalism class because they were hilarious, especially the one about the dog who challenged a dude to a duel.
Leonard Pierce
Highly amusing and very interesting history of dueling. Aimed at a mass audience, this contains some shocking facts and some grimly amusing anecdotes.
A.R. Jarvis


While overall I enjoyed learning about the history of dueling, I often found the author's narrative style difficult to follow.
Shannon
Much more humor in this book than I expected. I got a nice taste of history and I was entertained as well.
Jp
An interesting read about a topic brought alive by the masterful hand of the author.
Sarah
This was fun! Have to read her other stuff...
Sara
An interesting history and look at dueling
Lauren
This was a fascinating history of dueling.
Eilidh
Eilidh marked it as to-read
Sep 11, 2014
SerahRose
SerahRose is currently reading it
Sep 09, 2014
Jill
Jill marked it as to-read
Aug 24, 2014
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92066
Barbara Murray Holland was an American author who wrote in defense of such modern-day vices as cursing, drinking, eating fatty food and smoking cigarettes, as well as a memoir of her time spent growing up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
More about Barbara Holland...
Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences They Went Whistling: Women Wayfarers, Warriors, Runaways, and Renegades When All the World Was Young: A Memoir The Joy of Drinking Bingo Night at the Fire Hall: Rediscovering Life in an American Village

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