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

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

by Julia Keller
     
 

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A provocative look at the life and times of the man who created the original weapon of mass destruction

Drawing on her investigative and literary talents, Julia Keller offers a riveting account of the invention of the world's first working machine gun. Through her portrait of its misunderstood creator, Richard Jordan Gatling-who naively hoped that the

Overview

A provocative look at the life and times of the man who created the original weapon of mass destruction

Drawing on her investigative and literary talents, Julia Keller offers a riveting account of the invention of the world's first working machine gun. Through her portrait of its misunderstood creator, Richard Jordan Gatling-who naively hoped that the overwhelming effectiveness of a multiple-firing weapon would save lives by decreasing the size of armies and reducing the number of soldiers needed to fight-Keller draws profound parallels to the scientists who would unleash America's atomic arsenal half a century later. The Gatling gun, in its combination of ingenuity, idealism, and destructive power, perfectly exemplifies the paradox of America's rise in the nineteenth century to a world superpower.

Editorial Reviews

Debby Applegate
With a rat-a-tat pace and a wicked sense of humor, Julia Keller uses the story of Gatling's famous machine-gun to take us on an exuberant and entertaining tour through American capitalism in the nineteenth-century. This book is a carnival for history buffs – bursting with colorful characters, uncanny connections, and contagious enthusiasm. (Debby Applegate, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher)
Charles Bracelen Flood
Julia Keller has not only given us the fascinating story of the Gatling gun and its colorful inventor, but has also placed it into a valid and original context. She takes us into the middle of nineteenth century America as it really was: a westward-looking continent packed with dreams, energy, and ambitious practical ideas, a place where mechanical inventions created a vision of limitless power that shaped much of the nation's philosophy and destiny. This is the story of the artifact as changing history, the early machine gun as bringing about as great a transformation as the simple stirrup did in its era. If you haven't heard of Julia Keller, you'll hear of her now. (Charles Bracelen Flood, author of Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War and past president of PEN American Center.)
Publishers Weekly

Keller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, analyzes the nexus between invention and culture in this incisive and instructive cultural history cum biography. Her subject is the iconic Gatling gun, the "first successful machine gun," and its inventor, Richard Jordan Gatling, a 19th-century tinkerer and entrepreneur. A gifted amateur inventor, he registered his first patent-for a mechanical seed planter-in 1844 and had 43 lifetime patents. In 1862, with the Civil War raging, Gatling invented a six-barrel, rapid-firing (200 rounds per minute) gun based on his seed planter. Initially rejected by the Union army, the gun finally came into use in 1866 as a "bully and enforcer" against striking workers and in the Indian Wars; its legacy-"the mechanization of death"-didn't become fully apparent until the killing fields of WWI. A celebrity in the 19th century, Gatling was soon reviled for his "terrible marvel" and then consigned to obscurity. Keller rescues Gatling and anchors his remarkable life firmly in the landscape of 19th-century America: a time and place of "egalitarian hope and infinite possibility." (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Military histories typically cover leaders, major wars, or important battles, seldom the development and history of the weapons used to wage war. These two brief books manage to fill that gap. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Keller (Chicago Tribune) describes the immediate impact of the Gatling gun when its "breathless whirl" was first used in the Civil War. Created in 1861, it was the prototype for the modern machine gun. When the operator turned the gun's hand crank, the rotating barrels turned and fired rapidly. It used multiple barrels and needed little time to cool off. Keller's book is both a biography of Dr. Richard J. Gatling and an analysis of how his invention permanently changed the face of warfare. The gun produced carnage on a scale never seen before. It created a blueprint for future rapid-fire weapons and contributed to American military success for years to come.

If the Gatling gun was a transforming invention of the 19th century, the AK47 represents the kind of weapon that has transformed the 20th and 21st. It was created by Soviet Lt. Gen. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947. Hodges discusses the widespread use of this portable rapid-fire weapon, explaining that the AK47 was "not even the first semi-automatic weapon on the battlefield" nor "the most sophisticated." Its simple design was its greatest advantage; with fewer parts that might break, it was a reliable, cost-effective weapon that was easy to learn how to use. Like Keller, Hodges is an established journalist; both authors have a reporter's skill in driving their stories. Students and academics may find these books useful as secondary sources, although neither has footnotes and Hodges'sadditionally lacks a bibliography. Both are easy and enjoyable reads and will be accessible to general history buffs. Recommended for public and some undergraduate libraries.
—Antonio S. Thompson

Kirkus Reviews
Passionate biography of the inventor of the first practical machine gun. Son of a prosperous farmer and inventor, Richard Gatling (1818-1903) designed a screw propeller to drive ships at age 17. Unfortunately, his application arrived at the Patent Office only months after John Ericsson's similar device revolutionized ship transport. At 26, Gatling struck it rich with a seed planter that enabled farmers to sow in uniform rows instead of scattering seeds by hand; he filed nine more agricultural patents over the next two decades. The 1790 U.S. patent law was a historic achievement, points out Chicago Tribune culture critic Keller. Making it cheap and easy for Americans to profit from an invention, it became the engine of an explosion of technical advances. In 1861, Gatling used a rotary mechanical principle similar to that of his seed planter in a patent for the first useful rapid-fire "battery gun." Despite his energetic efforts, conservative Union ordinance officials rejected it. First-time author Keller contradicts historians who claim the first Gatling was clumsy and unreliable; it worked fine from the beginning, she demonstrates. The army reversed itself in 1866, armies throughout the world quickly followed and the Gatling remained in use until the 1890s. Because this is such an interesting history, it's regrettable that Keller is so eager to improve material that doesn't require improvement. She adopts fashionable fictional devices such as writing in the present tense ("The wide world beckons. Gatling is leaving home, mounting his horse for the daunting and perilous 737-mile journey.") and revealing her hero's inner thoughts: "No, no, no. His head was too full of all the things hewanted to build."Overheated prose only slightly mars this colorful portrait of an underappreciated American inventor and his times. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky/Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency
From the Publisher
"This book is a carnival...bursting with colorful characters, uncanny connections, and contagious enthusiasm." —Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781440633591
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/29/2008
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
363 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This book is a carnival...bursting with colorful characters, uncanny connections, and contagious enthusiasm." —-Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America

Meet the Author


Julia Keller is cultural critic at the ""Chicago Tribune"" and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. She is a guest essayist on ""NewsHour with Jim Lehrer"" and has been a contributor on CNN and ""NBC Nightly News,""


Patrick F. McManus has written twelve books and two plays. There are nearly two million copies of his books in print, including his bestselling ""They Shoot Canoes Don't They?""; ""The Night The Bear Ate Goombaw""; and ""A Fine and Pleasant Mystery,"" He divides his time between Spokane, Washington, and Idaho.
Read by Norman Dietz

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