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Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It
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Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It

2.92  ·  Rating Details ·  161 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize winner explores the role of the first machine gun in transforming America into a superpower

Although it was little used during the American Civil War—the time in which it was invented—the Gatling gun soon changed the nature of warfare and the course of world history. Discharging two hundred shots per minute with alarming accuracy, the world’s first machin
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 29th 2008 by Viking Adult (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Parts are better than the sum total

This is not a technical history about the Gatling gun. It's more of an extended essay about America in the 19th century and how inventors and creativity flourished during this century. The author uses Gatling's invention as a prime example of how America was turning out inventions that literally changed the way Humans do everything and how many of those inventors still effect us. In particular how war is waged which is probably one of Humanity's largest and mos
Jan 23, 2017 Amanda rated it really liked it
A fascinating and well-researched read on the history of the machine gun and the man who invented it.
Mar 22, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Keller, Julia. MR. GATLING’S TERRIBLE MARVEL: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It. (2008). ****. There really wasn’t much to say about Mr. Gatling’s life, so the author talks about the world around him to put some meat on his lean bones. First we learn that Gatling was an inveterate dabbler, and, ultimately an inventor. He started out with inventions in the agricultural field. One of his early inventions was a “wheat drill,” which I have no idea as to wha ...more
Michael Brady
Jan 08, 2017 Michael Brady rated it liked it
"Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It" is a social history about the man and his times, the application of patent law, the rise of industrialization, the internecine machinations of weapons procurement by the American military establishment, and the role of military technology applied to the acquisition and defense of empire. Regrettably this book contains very little about the innovative gun itself, its evolutions, or its us ...more
Jul 13, 2009 Brendan rated it really liked it
I’ve been keen to read this book for a while, as its title and day-glo cover beckoned me each time I walked by the bookstore. And then, glory, I found the hardcover for $9 on a back table at the local discount bookstore (where they were selling the trade paperback for $12 up front). The book is pretty great, but no quite as good as its cover. Keller tells two stories: the biography of Richard Gatling, the amateur inventor who patented a bunch of stuff, the most successful being the Gatling gun, ...more
Sean O'Hara
I really hate these bait-and-switch history books that promise a detailed look at some obscure but interesting subject, only to use that as a jumping off point for a more general history.

The history of the machine-gun is an expansive enough topic for an entire book, particularly its use as a tool of colonial oppression and slow metamorphosis into a weapon of "civilized" combat. In the Victorian era, machine-guns were seen as dirty pool, which was okay when fighting those pesky natives in Africa,
May 20, 2008 Davis rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: 19th Century buffs
Recommended to Davis by: Wired Magazine
I've been duped! This book felt like a seven course meal but you had no idea which one was the main course. Relative to the title, the book mentions little about Mr. Gatling and his most famous invention. This book talks more about the environment and circumstances in which Mr. Gatling invents his machine gun. At times, it feels like the author is repeating herself. What saves this book from a one star rating is that some of the environment and circumstances are mildly interesting. For instance, ...more
Don Best
Mar 16, 2016 Don Best rated it liked it
I was curious to read a book about a major technological development and the man who invented it. Especially by an author who is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The book is full of detail about the almost serendipitous invention and development of the first practical machine gun ( as a side note I think it would have been a better book if there had been more technical drawings as to why it worked and how but I realize that was not the author's intent ) and the man who invented it. The parallel ...more
Mr. Mike
Jul 03, 2008 Mr. Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Richard J. Gatling invented the world’s first successful machine gun hoping its terrible destructive firepower would quickly and humanely end the American Civil War. This particular hope was never truly tested because no Gatling guns were bought by Abraham Lincoln’s Ordnance Office but the Gatling gun’s “hopeful” promise was tested elsewhere on other battlefields around the world. Author Julia Keller argues that Gatling’s hope in war-ending firepower and the military’s resistance to using it cha ...more
Mike Prochot
Jul 06, 2013 Mike Prochot rated it did not like it
Shelves: americana
If you are interested in the history of the gatling gun, you will find some of it here.

If you are looking for a biography of Richard Gatling, keep looking.

If you wonder how an inventor of farm equipment came to decide to work on a concept gun, you will get no explanation here.

One would think that an inventer of a "machine gun" would have spent hours shooting rifles and examining guns. There is no mention of Mr. Gatling ever touching a gun in this book prior to him coming out with his machine
Walt O'Hara
Dec 22, 2009 Walt O'Hara rated it liked it
Interesting take on the man who invented (arguably) the first machine gun to be used in war. Surprisingly, for a book touted to be about the man's invention, there's not a great deal of material in this book *about* the actual gatling gun and how it was used in war. Richard Gatling comes across as an affable, hard working and inspired man who had an eventful career-- yet we don't see all that much of him. Instead, the book is a broad sweep through late 19th century history of technology. One poi ...more
Aug 03, 2008 Michael rated it did not like it
This is one strange book.

There are plenty of books about nineteenth century inventors and typically they have lots of social history that isn't directly connected with either the inventor or the invention - but here, in a 250 page book, the author doesn't get around to talking in much detail about either Gatling or his gun until 160 pages into it. The impression I had was that the author wasn't much interested in the nominal topics of the book.

In addition, presumably no one picks up a book like
This book describes the life and times of Richard Gatling. He was born into a slave holding family in North Carolina, but moved west to seek his fortune. Gatling was always a tinkerer and inventor. He had many patents and devices including seed drills and steam plows. He was moved by the carnage of the Civil War to invent his gun in the hopes it would reduce the size of armies. Keller uses his story to frame the times and describe how free spirited American inventors, driven by idealism to impro ...more
Oct 31, 2008 Brett rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: insomniacs, disaffected college students
For a book that purports to be about an inventor and his gun, this book has surprisingly little to say about either. To be honest, I gave up about halfway through, because it was just too dull. So maybe the last half is a giddy romp through Mr. Gatlings madcap adventures, but I'll never know. The author seems to be trying to craft a book along the lines of the vastly superior "Devil in the White City," in which a central historical tale is used to motivate a more general discussion of the time p ...more
J. Bryce
I've got agree with what seems to be the primary criticism of this book -- it's disjointed and although a strict chronological path is not required in "narrative non-fiction," it does help for those not thoroughly acquainted with the period.

Unlike some reviewers, though, I wasn't too perturbed by this -- it's just the author's conversational style. The only thing that really bothered me about how the book was "organized" -- and I use the word loosely -- was the repetition -- she repeated notion
Nov 01, 2011 Marty rated it did not like it
I was generous giving this book a single star. I love books that are about the people and times but as one person called this book, “it is a bait and switch book”. It had almost nothing about Gatling nor his gun in the first two chapters (as far as I could read). The book is filled with small self righteous sermons and pontifications. It is filled with arterial divergences and reminds me of a fractal, redundant and repetitive. The odd phrasing is meant as art I am sure but NO Yoda is she. I am s ...more
My trouble with this book is that it just tried to be too much. Richard Gatling lived through an amazing time and his gun had a big effect on the world, but the author tries to freight every chapter or observation with greater meaning -- often using artistic tropes -- while drawing for evidence on things happening 20-50 years after or before the actual events. It's wearying and detracts from the overall points. Moreover, it tries too hard to fill in gaps.

Part of the problem is that I've followed
Jun 05, 2013 Jeff rated it liked it
This book is more a love letter to American inventiveness and ingenuity, than an actual biography of Richard Gatling. The first part is all about the U.S. patent system which was fairly interesting. The remainder of the book is about the American can do spirit and the technological revolution of the late 1800's. The parts that are about Richard Gatling are thin and repetitive.

The author sets out to prove that Gatling was a misunderstood inventor who invented his self named gun to stop the horro
Aug 28, 2008 Jennifer rated it did not like it
I hated this book. When it was my latest bookclub pic I was excited. I specialized in military and American history in college, so reading a book about a gun that had a big effect on both military technology and the social history was appealing to me. I loved Erik Larson's Thunderstruck.

This book was a huge disappointment. Mr. Gatling sounds like an interesting man. Ms. Kellar has a few good salient points. But she beats them to death with flowery prose. Then 30 pages later she repeats the same
Adrian Moran
Apr 11, 2011 Adrian Moran rated it liked it
It appears that Mr Gatling was not a particularly colorful person and his life didn't make for a dramatic narrative on its own. Consequently, this book is about 85% tangent. The tangents are mostly interesting.

I sometimes found the author's attempts to apologize for/explain the 19th century in contrast to the modern day a bit simple-minded. For example, she spends a lot of time talking about how guns "mean" something different today than they did then. I don't think she adequately takes into ac
Nov 16, 2010 Motorcycle rated it liked it
The book was ok. The thing I liked most about it was eventually the thing that I liked least. I quickly realized that she used Gattling and his gun as an excuse to ramble pleasantly along about the time period. There was very little focus, and using that scatter-gun method she hit a lot of interesting targets. That was ok with me as long as it lasted. I enjoyed it. But then it came time to end, and she didn't seem to know how to stop. So it dragged on a bit after I saw any reason for it to conti ...more
Andy Dale
Dec 21, 2014 Andy Dale rated it really liked it
This book is about the inventor of one of the first machine guns, Gatling. It was invented in the mid 18th century but wasn't involved in the civil war. But, after the war the gatling gun was significantly used by the police, the army, etc. The book discussed Mr. Gatling's family and life story which wasn't too interesting. But, I enjoyed the history of the mid 1800's which I didn't know much about before. It discussed how there were a lot of other inventors around that time which really contrib ...more
Oct 30, 2008 Mark rated it liked it
Interesting information about Richard Gatling & the Gatling machine gun... but the book is more of a meandering musing about the changes in American life during the 2nd half of the 19th century than it is about Mr. Gatling.

At times, the book is over-written... going for poetic sweep instead of telling the story.
Matt Kruse
Nov 02, 2016 Matt Kruse rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Only so-so. For a book about a man and his machine gun, it took a shotgun approach to the story. It felt less like a biography or focused history and more like Gatling and his gun were a thread that were used to tie disparate bits of 19th century history together. It wasn't terrible, just unfocused.
Aug 17, 2008 Joshua rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
Interesting book that is part biography of the inventor of the Gatling gun but delves off into sub-subjects that are just as intriguing. Things like the history of the US patent office, the expansion of the American West, various histories of guns and the American gun culture experience, the Civil War...things like that.
John Weber
Aug 24, 2015 John Weber rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography brimming full of memorable prose, which illuminates the 19th century American entrepreneurial spirit and explains how the atrocities of twentieth century warfare were the nearly inevitable result of the 19th centuries extraordinary advancement in the technologies of mass slaughter. Highly recommended!
Aug 22, 2009 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is more of a cultural studies about the times in which Gatling invented his gun than it is a biography about the man. Sometimes, I felt, it was a little overwrought, but I liked it nonetheless.
Jul 19, 2012 Jeannie rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Somewhat educational about the realities of arms creation and the thoughts behind them. The author does have a bias - at least a little bit - and at times that got to me, but I managed to read on through. I love anything about the cultural or social history of something, guns included.
An interesting book about the first working machine gun and the man who invented it. This book also goes a bit into the history of the US Patent Office, which becomes a sort of side story near the start of the book, but overall it's a good historical read.
Mar 06, 2010 Joe rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I would have liked it better if it had stayed on subject. It is more of a breathless and breezy review of 19th Century American culture centered on Richard Gatling than a book just on Richard Gatling.
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Julia was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. She graduated from Marshall University, then later earned a doctoral degree in English Literature at Ohio State University.

She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at Princeton and Ohio State Universities, and the University of Notre Dame. She is a guest essayist on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and has been a contri
More about Julia Keller...

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