American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms

American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms

4.2 46
by Chris Kyle, William Doyle

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In American Gun, the deadliest sniper in U.S. history tracks down and shoots the most important American firearms, from a flintlock rifle to a Colt revolver to the latest high-tech weapon he used as a SEAL. Chris Kyle uses these guns as a window on United States history, making the sweeping argument that the American story has been tied to and shaped by the gun…  See more details below


In American Gun, the deadliest sniper in U.S. history tracks down and shoots the most important American firearms, from a flintlock rifle to a Colt revolver to the latest high-tech weapon he used as a SEAL. Chris Kyle uses these guns as a window on United States history, making the sweeping argument that the American story has been tied to and shaped by the gun. In each chapter he offers engaging stories associated with a particular gun, form wars to duels to shoot outs. American Gun is part history, part first-hand journey as Chris locates and shoots these legendary guns.

Editorial Reviews

There has never been a better moment to launch a literary examination of how American history has been shaped by the guns we've used. Or maybe the time has never been worse. The gun, symbol and reality both, has become in past months the most divisive agent in the ongoing debate about who we are and where we're going as a nation.

It is beyond germane that the author's life and death — at the wrong end of the weapon he mastered and revered — concisely summarizes both sides of a vexatious argument and, for good measure, puts a fillip of anguished irony on top. Chris Kyle had not yet finished writing this paean to the instrument with which he was murdered in February 2013. He had no way to know that with American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms, he was inscribing his own memorial, one that will always in some way remain incomplete.

By now only someone who has been on a long vacation in a foreign land with sorry connectivity (here we exclude Iraq) is not acquainted with Kyle, decorated Navy SEAL and the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history (160 confirmed kills and likely far more than that); bestselling author of 2012's American Sniper; the subject of extended articles (including a somber e- single by Anthony Swofford, a former Marine sniper uniquely positioned among journalists to consider Kyle's life and untimely death); and soon to be played by Bradley Cooper in a Spielberg film. He was not exactly bigger than life, but his outlines were more distinctly inked than nature usually draws. His death is only now adding chiaroscuro to the image of a superhero.

From boyhood he owned and loved guns, for hunting and general boy-play — "I love lever-action rifles... I lusted after [brother Jeff's] Marlin .30-06 when we were kids. I had a fine bolt-action .30-06, but his lever-action Marlin looked to me like a cowboy gun, and in my mind that made it the best" — and it is this enthusiastically sensuous regard for the object that permeates American Gun. The allure of the weapon, its efficiencies and action and sound and smell, is inseparable from its terrible power; it belongs to that class of manmade phenomena a friend of mine has termed "charismatic objects." These are fast and dangerous, elegant and complex, functional and art. At its heart the gun (or the motorcycle or the airplane) embodies a paradox: its satisfactory utilization calls for a still focus, the world distilled to here and now, but the fire that results from such Zen purity has been stoked with the full knowledge of its awful purpose. The psychic heaviness of the piece is an analogue to its physical heaviness (and guns are always heavier than you think, notwithstanding Kyle's frequent observation that this or that gun is "light"; weight is obviously relative for a man who has undergone the ruthless physical conditioning of SEAL training and who has "humped" guns hither and yon for most of his life).

His glee in shooting — describing it, recounting others' doing it, and especially the results of doing it, death as ultimate hobby — is palpable, and almost childlike. He mentions that the AR15's full rack of custom options (grips, sights, trigger systems) have made it "a Barbie Doll for guys" but as usual does not comment on the implications: No matter how much cash you spend to bust the doors on Barbie's closet, no one could die from it. American Gun is a book for sympathizers, not questioners.

The scope through which Kyle here sights on the history of America is the one most emblematic to him: the good guys blasting away at the bad. So we had a bunch of wars, a few loose cannons, as it were, like Prohibition-era gangsters and would-be presidential assassins, and the rest is law and order. It's not all of what happened in the past 337 years, but — and this is the fulcrum of the high-stakes debate now swinging back and forth in the legislative and lobbying arenas (one and the same, argues one side) — for folks of Kyle's hawkish proclivities it seems like pretty much all we've accomplished.

Kyle owns that his ten chosen forearms are personal favorites and could be argued, but he knows his guns. In fact, he's fired many of them and describes doing so to fine effect: his list, spanning the Revolution to twenty-first-century global conflicts, comprises the American long rifle, the Spencer Repeater, the Colt Single-Action Army Revolver, the Winchester 1873 Rifle, the M1903 Springfield, the M1911 Pistol, the Thompson Submachine Gun, the M1 Garand Semi-Automatic ("the gun that saved the world" in the hands of the Allies), the .38 Special Police Revolver, and the M16 Rifle. He announces right up front what to expect from his approach to the account: "I aimed to talk history with the bullets flying" — no "stodgy textbook" this. The book reads like the Colt 1911 shoots: "The spent shell pops out quicker than you can see it. A new one pushes up from the magazine inside. Aim, and fire again. Nothing to it." In other words, "so sweet." And so we are in the presence of a battlefield tour guide who has the uncanny ability to conjure the long-vanished line advancing up the empty rise before us, to make us smell the tang of black powder in the air, and most of all to imagine the otherwise unimaginable heroism of those who put their own lives last, with their guns first.

The book starts with the story of a sniper (in 1777) and especially relishes highlighting storied descendants of his ilk: Sergeant York, the commandos at Dieppe, and by extension all those who profess Kyle's own religion. It is not a subtle one. "I don't see too much gray," he explained in his first book. Killing someone? "It's no big deal." Intense fighting: "I fucking love this." But in Kyle's book, literally and figuratively, annihilation of life is more than all right so long as the target is black-and-white. That which makes it so clear? Evil. The man who holds a gun is judge, jury, and executioner in one. The case in war, to Chris Kyle, is already closed.

Kyle's widow, Tara, now carries the flag for her husband. In her foreword and afterword, the word evil appears often, as it did in her husband's first book. It is a good justification, but a poor explanation. It is the metaphoric bullet in the sniper's Mk11.

The full detail is only now coming to light of the mentally unstable vet that Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were trying to help but who instead killed them at a firing range. Tara's rendering of her husband takes on, in that light, a distressing and almost tragic cast. She sketches Kyle as a man who had found new purpose after giving up a life devoted to killing, in aiding others who had suffered from doing just that. Much of the money he made from American Sniper was given to veterans' relief; he had co-founded a foundation to provide fitness equipment to disabled vets. Most of all, he believed in the healing power of shooting guns. Perverse, ironic, paradoxical: yes, abundantly. And no, too.

Chris Kyle was both a victim and a celebrant of the gun's terrible potency: its double nature. If you love its life-giving side, you risk its life-taking one. In war as in peace, no one gets to choose.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson is the author of three works of nonfiction: The Perfect Vehicle, Dark Horses and Black Beauties, andThe Place You Love Is Gone, all from Norton. She is writing a book on B. F. Skinner and the ethics of dog training.

Reviewer: Melissa Holbrook Pierson

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)


Meet the Author

SEAL Team 3 Chief Chris Kyle served four combat tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom and elsewhere. For his bravery in battle, he was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation. Additionally, he received the Grateful Nation Award, given by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Following his combat deployments, he became chief instructor for training Naval Special Warfare Sniper and Counter-Sniper teams, and he authored the Naval Special Warfare Sniper Doctrine, the first Navy SEAL sniper manual. Today, he is president of Craft International (, a world-class leader in training and security. He lives with his family in Texas, where he devotes much of his spare time to helping disabled veterans.

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American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
ABookAWeekES More than 1 year ago
Chris Kyle, author of his bestselling memoir American Sniper, was no stranger to guns. As a Navy SEAL, he had a record confirmed 160 kills. Beyond his expert marksmanship, Kyle possessed the unique ability to be a great storyteller. At the time of his tragic death in February 2013, he was working on a new project, American Gun. In the book, Kyle chronicles American history, beginning during the revolutionary war. Each section details this history using a different firearm as the main focus. Having shot each of the weapons featured in the book, Kyle not only speaks of the physical aspects of the guns, but also provides a wealth of historical context that surrounds them. Rather than write about each gun in a textbook fashion, which Kyle himself admits would be incredibly boring, he zeroes in on the human side of the story, placing the reader in the place of the men who used the weapons. There are a few moments of historical speculation, particularly in the section about Lincoln's push to get  the multi-shot Spencer Repeater rifle into the hands of his Union soldiers. Lincoln was met with resistance from military leaders who saw the new technology as gimmicky. Kyle argues that, had the Union used the new weapons sooner, the Civil War would have ended sooner, and more American lives could have been spared. Despite this speculation, Kyle acknowledges the facts and seems to respect the history as it occurred. In the past year, firearms have become a hotly politicized topic. I was a bit worried that, as a man who spent a great deal of time with weapons, Kyle would turn this book into a kind of propaganda tool. Fortunately, Kyle never seems to be preachy or pushing an ideology upon the reader. Instead, he writes with a passionate respect for both guns and the history surrounding them. Perhaps his words sum it up the best. "You can get a little fancy talking about guns. . . That's not fair. Real life has been messy, bloody, complicated. . . But the past can show us the way to the future. It can give us hope. . ." (pg. 261-262)
Jekyll1 More than 1 year ago
I bought this book as I saw the author's wife being interviewed on TV. I was interested in the book after the interview and found the book to be a very good history of various firearms over a period of many years. If you are a history buff or a gun owner you will enjoy this book.
guitaoist3 More than 1 year ago
Been waiting for this book for a while and it looks like the wait was worth it! Rip Chris Kyle, a true American hero.
Aihanna More than 1 year ago
This is historically very good and accurate. This book supports capitalism, research and development and The Constitution. This book is non-biased and very informative. If you are a history buff it is a must read. This book takes you from the conception of America to today. Regardless of your viewpoint you will enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay, I do own a 50 year old Marlin 22 rifle, and I have been target shooting before, but I don't own any of the weapons Chris Kyle and his co-authors explore in this "history of America". I do read a lot of history, and found the way Chris links these weapons to what has happened in America interesting and entertaining. The fact that his knowledge of and personal interests in fire arms could cover such a broad period of time made the book an enjoyable read. Congrats to his wife for helping to push this book to publication after Chris's untimely departure.
SEAL76 More than 1 year ago
This was a very good read. I liked the way Chris told the story of each gun and its contribution to American history. His writing is clear and to the point without being overly academic. His humor is refreshing. I am a former SEAL and I am probably biased but i'd recommend this book to casual and serious gun enthusiasts. Hooyah Chris!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written is a way that you can almost feel Kyle sitting there telling you the story behind each gun. Gun details are great and the role each gun played in U.S. history is extremely interesting. Very easy to read (finished in 2 days) and even my wife enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chris Kyle's American Gun is a fascinating book with each chapter dedicated to a different weapon. He takes us through history starting with the Revolutionary War. He not only tells about the different firearms but also surrounds the information with historical context.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chris Kyle tells a great story with this book. The way his chapters progress keeps any one reading. I was able to read this book in a day and a half, while American Sniper took me a few days. There are many reasons why Chris Kyle's death is tragic, but the fact that we will never read another book written by him is sad. R.I.P. Chris Kyle
Rod121 More than 1 year ago
It's a great read and accurate history of guns in America. It doesn't hurt that it was written by an American hero.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A worthwhile book to read. It had interesting history associated with the firearms he chose to write about!
GolfguyMO More than 1 year ago
This is a good read about some of the firearms that made America. Probably nothing a follower of firearm history doesn't know but there are some interesting stories. If you like firearms you will probably like this book.
jwarmath More than 1 year ago
With Mr. Kyle's expertise in all things weapons I really enjoyed this book. It not only described ten great arms that helped shape this country but he gave us a lot of history of our people and our country. Once again Mr. Kyle did a fantastic job of authoring his books. My condolences to his family and my appreciation for all he did and for his family.
WeatherDude More than 1 year ago
Excellent book for the western history and gun enthusiest. Written by a great American and Navy SEAL. God bless Chris' family.
StephWard More than 1 year ago
'American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms' is a truly engaging and fascinating book that goes through the history of the United States by detailing ten of the most important and influential firearms throughout the times. The book is full of interesting facts and details, along with great pictures and illustrations that add fantastic visual aids to the narrative as a whole. The writing is done in a conversational tone and doesn't come across and stuffy or boring. I'm not a huge history fan or a firearms buff, but I found myself really interested in the ten firearms the author chose to represent our country's history. The author is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject and does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into the histories told by using real characters and happenings. This is a definite must read for both lovers of history and firearm fanatics! Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Stargazer805 More than 1 year ago
I am only half way through the book, but the stories of each gun the author chose are very interesting. Big thumbs up!
ChanFan More than 1 year ago
I received both of Chris's books for Father's Day and enjoyed both of them very much! American Gun was exceptionally fun to read. History comes alive in American Gun on every page. You owe it to yourself to buy and read these books. So, get off your butts, run to the book store, and get 'em both! Right now! :-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a GREAT read. As I went through the pages I could almost enjoy the company of a guy that I could not help but wish I had enjoyed the chance to meet. Interesting view of the guns covered as well as the overwhelming benefit that firearms have brought to this beautiful country of ours.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Like previous reviewers have commented on, this was a pretty good book but was short on content. I would have liked to see a discussion on shotguns, a category that is completely left out of this volume. The book read well to me and flowed very smoothly but had a little bit of unfinishedness to it. It read like a well-written rough draft that hadn't been fleshed out and expanded by its creator. Sadly, the scenario I just described is fairly close to the mark due to the author's untimely death.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellently written with good content. My only criticism was that it was too short as it could have had more examples of firearms that made history which is why I gave it four stars instead of five.
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