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Comment: Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Date of Publication: 2003
Binding: hardcover
Edition: 1st Edition
Condition: Near Fine
Description: Near-fine hardback copy in Near-fine jacket. LISTING PHOTO DOES NOT NECESSARILY RESEMBLE THIS COPY.
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Firearms: A Global History to 1700 Hardcover – 7 Jul 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st Edition edition (7 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521822742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521822749
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,962,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"The gun (cannon, musket, rifle, machinegun, etc.) has been the prime tool of war for most of a thousand years. The Chinese invented it, but it was the Europeans who refined it and made it an instrument of world hegemony. That mysterious migration of technology and obsession from east to west is the subject of Kenneth Chase's insightful book, along with what firearms did to and for Turks, Mughals, Japanese, and all the rest of us."
- Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas, Austin

"Kenneth Chase's book is indeed a delight and a great achievement. His central claim is that each of the major agrarian governments of Eurasia used gunpowder weapons in a rational way, and that difference depended on geographical circumstances, not on cultural traditions or soldiers' stubborn affection for horses. The breadth of information and the precision of his interpretation are exhilarating. Chase unites extraordinary learning with even more extraordinary wisdom and presents them to us in easy, graceful prose."
- William H. McNeill, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, author of The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society Since A.D. 1000(1982)

"The particular value of this wide-ranging and well-written work on a crucial period in military history is its author's strong grasp of the situation in East Asia. It is unusual to have such a specialist write more widely on the topic, and this gives Chase a distinctive voice. His particular concern is the relationship of nomads to firearms and he carefully links this to the respective success and failure of individual military systems. Chase's book will play a major role in the discussion of early-modern military history."
- Jeremy Black, Professor in History, Exeter University

"A tour de force of scholarship that should become a fundamental text and resource for all interested in world and Asian history."
- Arthur Waldron, Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

"Few works on military history do what Chase manages to do here, develop a specific theory in its widest possible context."
- Technology and Culture, Robert Smith

"As a whole, this book is a remarkable tour de force and should become required reading for students of military history.
- Sixteenth Century Journal, James R. Smither, Grand Valley State University

"The comparative breadth of the analysis is commendable." - Jonathan Grant, Florida State University

Book Description

This book is a history of firearms across the world from the 1100s up to the 1700s, from the time of their invention in China to the time when European firearms had become clearly superior. It asks why Europeans perfected firearms when the Chinese had invented them by looking at how firearms were used throughout the world.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Hampus Engsner on 18 May 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Incredibly concise, lucid, and very, very interesting! 21 Dec. 2003
By Bryan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I usually don't go for history books that deal with the time period of Chase's book. But this book is the exception to that rule. Chase's expertise comes from simply being interested in the topic. He's not even a "professional historian" i.e. someone who gets paid to write books like this. He is in fact an attorney who just had an interest in how nomads and firearms are connected and why it was that Europe perfected firearms when it was Asia, specifically China, that invented them. He takes the reader through a huge span of history and through several sections of what he refers to as "the Oikoumene", or that which encompasses Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and some other small areas. Chase methodically explains the evolution and application of firearms and gives historical context for both his ideas and his explanations. This was a great read, and since I am very interested in military history, this book filled in the majority of the pieces missing in my understanding of early-modern military history. Mr. Chase, I'd just ask you one favor: write another book so I can buy it and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this one.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Interesting arguments... but neither entirely convincing nor "factually flawless" 15 Oct. 2013
By Tom - Published on
Format: Paperback
An interesting study by all means - which is not to say though that one will necessarily agree with the author on his basic hypothesis.

The book's premise is quite simple. Early firearms worked best when employed by technologically advanced nations against similarly "civilized" opponents but supposedly they were worthless against nomadic horsemen. Hence the nations involved in constant warfare with steppe nomads saw little direct use in the development of firearms and vice-versa.

Examining primarily the cultures of China, Europe, Japan and the Muslim world, it is bound to be a general study in some ways (on really no more than 200 pages!) despite the best of efforts. Now and then, however, it is evident that the author may have used too broad of a brush, which does make the study look a bit weak if not pretentious.

Only a few questionable points to note:

- The author repeatedly emphasizes the notion that the early firearms were extremely ineffective. Compared to what? Recent research has shed quite a bit more light on that issue. No, late-medieval artillery was not necessarily huge and immobile. And "early" firearms may have been a fair bit more accurate than most people think. Not to mention that the bows and crossbows of the time may not have been quite the long-range sniping high velocity machine guns that we like to think.

- At the same time, firearms supposedly made a great advance in the 1700's and 1800's, which finally made them effective against steppe nomads. What were these advances? In what way is a Napoleonic smoothbore musket so much better than a 15th c. matchlock? No dramatic improvement there until the rifled breechloader really. By which time the steppe nomads had long lost their prestige (and apparently due to reasons other than gunpowder technology).

- Ottoman wars against Austria... Just one point of many really. The 1591/3-1606 war did involve more than a single major field battle. Sisak would be an interesting one to study. Particularly to demonstrate the difference between the Ottoman and Western tactics and their approach to integrating fireams. (Hint: it was a huge Ottoman defeat.)

- Were the first guns in fact invented in China? Remains to be seen. Good arguments have been made to the contrary recently. The evidence cited in the book leaves a few doubts. As do many of the references in general. Often, fairly bold statements are made and supported by citing some particular work that does not really apply to the argument at hand. Again, too broad of a brush perhaps.

- Ottoman firearms better than the European counterparts? Really? When and how? Looking at the history of the Varna campaign for instance and the later engagements of the 15th and 16th c. I could think of literally dozens of primary sources indicating the contrary.

But the most important thing of all. Can one really reduce military history to technology alone?

Why did some cultures invest in gunpowder and some did not? Why were some more successful and some less so? Maybe it really had to do an awful lot less with the actual technology they had but far more with other factors: economy, organization, training, morale. And so on.

Again, interesting work by all means. A scholarly "tour-de-force" it is not, however. It would take a few thicker volumes and a fair bit more research to actually deserve that claim.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Informative, but.... 9 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This small tome is well-written and quite erudite, but _desperately_ needs illustrations of the actual firearms! There is only *one* image of a specific firearm, and it is merely a simple line-drawn schematic. The very few other illustrations are just "fillers".
The book could and should have been so much more. Still, the high quality of the text and the research is enough for any firearms enthusiast and/or historian to add it to their collection.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding Macro-history 19 Feb. 2012
By W. D ONEIL - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you like the work of William McNeill and Jared Diamond this book is for you. While it succinctly tells the story of firearms themselves up to 1700, it is really about how how and why they had very different impacts in different physical settings, and how they and their settings interacted to do so much to shape the world of today. Some books I read and forget, but this one I return to for fresh insights.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Well researched, Well written. 24 Oct. 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Superficially this book literally fails to live up to it's title but I wonder if this was chosen by the publisher rather than the author as is common these days. Indeed the spine and sleeve are simply titled 'Firearms' but if you want a book about firearms up to 1700 then better look elsewhere. In fact there is very little here about firearms and cannon probably get as much limited coverage as actual 'hand guns' themselves.

So if it's not a gun book, what is it? You might expect an account of how firearms and gun powder technology migrated from China to Europe where it subsequently flourished but again you will be disappointed (although in fairness does anyone know?) It does give an in depth account of the obstacles facing the migration of gunpowder technology from east to west but anyone looking for a book on guns might come to the conclusion that this work could equally have covered any early Chinese technology, porcelain perhaps.

Move away from the title and the blurb is actually quite accurate with this book giving a good account of how interactions between settled agriculturalists and nomads influenced the adoption and spread of gunpowder weapons. In fact what this book really did for me was to present a fascinating back story to events that profoundly influenced the spread of medieval military technology, particularly firearms and it does this in an entertaining and thought provoking manner. Just as interesting as the actual text are the notes, 44 pages in the hardback version and also the extensive bibliography. It does not assume prior knowledge but presents the story in such an intriguing manner that it inspires the reader to pursue further research, at least it has for me. If a book can do that for even one reader then that is, I think, the highest praise.
And finally, now I am taking my studies further, let me add that for a subject filled with contradictory views and rival academic factions this book seems to be factually faultless...

Top marks!
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