Joe's Reviews > By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions

By the Sword by Richard Cohen
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Jul 12, 09

Read in June, 2009

Terrific book. Cohen is a former Olympic fencer but also a very good writer, and he combines those skills perfectly for this book with an enthusiasm for the subject matter, an insider's knowledge, and an ability to convey all of that to the outsider. As a former fencer I may have enjoyed it more than others, but I think most people would like it.

Necessarily selective, he touches on a variety of different historical aspects not only of fencing and swordmaking, but also of the cultures, norms and trends that influenced how swords are and have been used, ranging from dueling to movies (an excellent chapter) to initiation rites at German fraternities. He also fits them into larger cultures--the chapter on fencing and fascism was really illuminating--and one of my favorites was his look at fencing and swords in Japanese society.

I think this was part of the trend of books about one very particular topic (i.e. coffee, salt, cod); the other one of those I attempted to read, about the potato, was deathly dull, which is the risk one runs when concentrating on just one topic. Cohen avoids this well, and put together an excellent book.
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