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

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

by Barbara Holland
     
 

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"Never, never, did I imagine that dueling could be so enthralling, outrageous, gruesome, tragic, and, yes, ridiculous...Lively humor and sparkling prose." -Wall Street Journal
The medieval justice of trial by combat evolved into the private duel by sword and pistol, with thousands of honorable men-and not-so-honorable women-giving lives and limbs to wipe out an

Overview

"Never, never, did I imagine that dueling could be so enthralling, outrageous, gruesome, tragic, and, yes, ridiculous...Lively humor and sparkling prose." -Wall Street Journal
The medieval justice of trial by combat evolved into the private duel by sword and pistol, with thousands of honorable men-and not-so-honorable women-giving lives and limbs to wipe out an insult or prove a point. The duel was essential to private, public, and political life, and those who followed the elaborate codes of procedure were seldom prosecuted and rarely convicted-for, in fact, they were obeying a grand old tradition. Based on her fascinating 1997 Smithsonian article, Barbara Hollands Gentlemens Blood is the first trade book to trace the remarkable, often gruesome, sometimes comical history of the Western tradition of defending ones honor.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In dueling, the author of Hail to the Chiefs finds a surprisingly sturdy axis around which to connect historical figures and incidents as spokes. Holland wheels it all engagingly from the birth of jousting in the 12th century to October 2002 and Iraq's suggestion of a fight among national leaders rather than a war with the U.S. Her arguments about duels surviving in professional sports and business ventures are persuasive, but her anecdotes and digressions carry the narrative. Besides accounts of such famed duel winners as Jim Bowie-or losers, like Alexander Hamilton-she describes astronomer Tycho Brahe getting his nose sliced off, artist Caravaggio slaying a victorious tennis opponent and writer Alexander Pushkin canceling a gunfight in progress because of a snowstorm. Holland also uncovers unknowns with equally remarkable stories, the funniest of which depicts a battle between a man and a dog that "suspected" him of killing its master. Alas, Holland focuses more on the sport of dueling than its messy results. Although she claims duels left a third of their participants dead or seriously injured and that they were "hard on the widows and orphans," she fails to explore the bloody consequences in detail. And while some of her wistful ideas about gentlemen no longer being manly have merit, others, like honor being as antiquated as throwing "virgins down volcanoes," are overwrought. Perhaps the definitive work on dueling remains to be written, but until it arrives, this makes for a fun, fitfully enlightening ride. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this charming work, Holland (Hail to the Chiefs) illuminates men's age-old obsession with pairing up for mortal combat. She is clearly fond of her subject in part because she finds it so bewildering and demonstrates the endearing qualities of a fascinatingly stupid male ritual through sarcasm and wit. Unfortunately, the underdeveloped thesis of how the dueling instinct survives today means there is little to tie together the presented stories. More a chronology of particular duels (from the year 501 to 2002) than a history of dueling, the narrative moves from the upper classes of Europe in the sword's heyday through the introduction of guns to dueling, which made the ritual accessible to the masses, and into America where duels took off just as they were primarily dying out elsewhere. Accounts of both famous duels such as the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton case and the ongoing feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys are liberally mixed with intriguing but lesser known tiffs. Students will be shocked to learn how much of America's early history involved dueling: doctors in New Orleans settled medical disputes by shooting each other, and newspapermen had to set schedules for when they were open to take challenges. Recommended for libraries that already have more exhaustive books on swordplay (e.g., Richard Cohen's By the Sword) and are looking for an accessible and unique angle on the subject. [A Smithsonian Magazine selection.]-Laura Ciporen, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Dallas Morning News
"This admirable book both informs and entertains."
Arizona Republic
"Barbara Holland's droll wit enlivens every book she touches."
Wall Street Journal
"Never did I imagine that dueling could be so enthralling, outrageous, gruesome, tragic, and, yes, ridiculous."
Los Angeles Times
"Holland cheerfully, airily, describes the many forms the duel has taken over the centuries...[A] high-spirited history of the art."
Boston Globe
"Remarkable and very funny...[Holland] is a gifted and joyful storyteller."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Succulent material…Holland's dry wit and 'boys-will-be-boys' commentary enlivens her storytelling."
Raleigh News & Observer
"On my honor, it's a good read."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596918092
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
12/13/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Barbara Holland is the author of thirteen previous books and has written for Smithsonian, Glamour, Playboy, the Utne Reader, Redbook, Seventeen, and the Washington Post, among many others. She lives in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.

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