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

Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller
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's review
Jul 08, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: history
Read in July, 2008

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 characterize the unforeseen “sorting out” of the man and the 19th century’s Industrial Age of mass manufacture and developing mass markets. Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel is the story of a man of genius propelling and being propelled by the 19th century’s tradition-busting lurch into the Machine Age.

Richard Gatling and his machine gun, says Keller, is a vivid case study of the 19th century‘s massive “sorting out” of the transition of America and other advanced nations from agriculture, piecemeal craftsmanship, and individual dignity to industry, mass manufacture and depersonalized mass markets and culture. Gatling’s individual “sorting out” reflects and affects this transition. Gatling and the rest of the world learn the rudiments of “progress”: marketing, interchangeability of parts, assembly lines, and cheap accessible patents (the American patent system). The world also learns the price of “progress”: depersonalization, growth of a large labor class, increased tension between labor and management, and Gatling gun-enabled racist empire-building. America in particular, says Keller, begins during this era of “progress” its long ponder of what it means to be a superpower.

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