Though fencing is seen as a graceful and noble sport, it is not without its seamy side. "By the Sword" traces the darkness behind the mask, from the sport'searly brutal days to the more civilized, yet no less dangerous, days of duelling and then to the present day. Abraham Lincoln, Karl Marx and Mussolini were all involved in duels, Hitler gave fencing a special emphasis in his regime and the best fencer the world has even seen as an anti-Soviet spy. Richard Cohen explains how these disparate people came to be bonded by the same sport as well introducing other aficiondados such as Henry VIII, Mozart, Byron and Marcel Marceau. Against this historical tableau, Cohen also delves behind the headlines exposing lurid tales of cheating and blackmail, of murder and strange love affairs, the honour and dishonour of swordmanship and its cultural side from "The Three Musketeers" to "Star Trek". Above all the book portrays the character of fencing - at once graceful, balletic, rough, technically beautiful and fiercely competitive. Richard Cohen traces these subtleties, the passions that it arouses in its players, and explains his personal devotion to this ancient art.