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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  40 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 o
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 8th 2003 by Bloomsbury (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  231 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Start your review of Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-history
Don't question the chastity of a Spaniard's sister.
Don't call a German a coward.
Just stay the hell out of Ireland.
And if it's over a woman... don't; they seldom get turned on by manslaughter.
Sounds like I'd make a sensible dueler by nature.

A tongue-in-cheek yet comprehensive look at the duel from Homer to the last honourable gentlemen, whose duels begin with discreet car trunks and end with a conviction. Where the German student fraternity is built on beer and fenc
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.
Jennifer Petkus
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 exampl
Charles J
Oct 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Barbara Holland’s “Gentlemen’s Blood” is a series of jaunty anecdotes about dueling through time and around the world. Most of it focuses on America and Britain, with side tours into Germany, France and Russia, touching on famous duelists like Pushkin (who ended up the worse for wear as a result). The book is interesting for those anecdotes, and reading it is a reasonable way to kill some time and get a glimpse, if a circumscribed and brief one, into the ways of the past. But it is most interest ...more
Miroku Nemeth
May 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 a
Margaret Sankey
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
There's been an obnoxious sprouting of the "armed society is polite society" nonsense again, so I refer enthusiasts to the times in which, not as a thought experiment, but as a real thing, any men (and a very small number of women) who thought they were entitled by status and obliged by "honor" engaged in a two century long murder spree of staggering political and economic disruption and absolutely senseless human tragedy. Holland deromanticizes the best efforts of Europeans to make it an exclus ...more
Sam Kabo Ashwell
Nov 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.

Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, social, 2018
So I knew I was going to like this book as soon as I picked it up and saw the title. But I didn't realize what a true pleasure reading this book would be - it is excellent! Holland does a wonderful job of integrating proper historical context and explanations alongside dramatic accounts of men facing off to avenge their apparently insulted honor. I especially enjoyed the care that she took to flesh out some of the more significant players in the narrative, as well as to acknowledge the sometimes ...more
Donna D'Agostino
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who knew dueling could be so interesting

What an interesting and fun read. Very informative with a bit of humor. I saw a lecture on the Hamilton, Burr duel which made me want to know more about dueling in general. This book did not disappoint.
Lisa Lynch
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up as research for some stories I'm writing and wasn't disappointed. The author's voice comes down to a matter of literary tastes, but I found it easy to stay for the bloody, often times amusing slices of dueling throughout history.
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Nov 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
So my first thought when I started reading this book is: "This is terrible". I'm not one to typically read non-fiction books, so this was a new foray for me, but for the first few chapters, as Holland explores the history of duelling from the middle ages to the 19th century, she is scattered. She talks about one thing, then the other, with scarce a pause or clear structure to her arguments. Dates are notably missing, making it hard to form a good idea of when each event occurred relative to one- ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nate Jacobsen
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Here's a sentence from the book. "The trunks are massive and bulging, no two grown alike, grotesquely molded, trunks such as a prehistoric rhinoceros would have if a rhinoceros were a tree."

The book immediately and glaringly suffers from a lack of structure which combined with poor editing leaves the topic repetitive in format and unexplored.

Identities are thrown in casually as though we should be bored by familiarity with the characters in question. The subject may become too borin
Fran Becker
Aug 21, 2015 rated it liked it
An introduction to the age-old sport of dueling. This book does not take itself too seriously, and Barbara Holland writes with a snarkiness that makes all of the men dying in such encounters more worthy of disdain than admiration.

Her Southern bias is very clear, not only because of the many pages devoted to Southern dueling, but also because, among other things, she dismisses the Sally Hemings-Thomas Jefferson relationship with an airy sentence that seems to imply that there was no truth to the
Adam Zabell
Aug 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
If all you want are ill-referenced anecdotes and opinion masquerading as fact, this book is fine. It may work as an introduction to the topic, but any further exploration will reveal dreadful inadequacies. Using this book for information is like using Errol Flynn movies to learn about Medieval England, or Twilight novels to learn about Seattle.

Bluntly, this book reads like a 2003 update of RBaldick's 1965 work, here written by and for Americans where the other was by and for the Engl
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Douglas Beagley
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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'l
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
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
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
May 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
You'll never see a swashbucklin' movie the same way again! Holland provides scads of fascinating minutia about the history of duelling, its weapons and participants, its horror and its absurdity. You may find yourself trying to turn conversations toward the subject of duelling just so that you can share some of these remarkable anecdotes.
Charmingly written, too.
Sep 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2008
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.
Jul 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic history -- enlightening, startling, amusing.

Sandra Gulland

Author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun
Jan 20, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Failed out--the author had a weird and dated "boys will be boys" attitude that was a big turnoff, and I quit at the line about black men being honored to be killed by racist white men in the South so long as it wasn't a lynching. G A G.
Leonard Pierce
May 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jun 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

While overall I enjoyed learning about the history of dueling, I often found the author's narrative style difficult to follow.
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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.