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By the Sword: Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai Warriors, Swashbucklers and Olympians Paperback – 4 Mar 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK; 1st Pocket Book Edition edition (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847396704
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847396709
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Carefully researched and written with sense and wit . . . it's not often you come across a man equally at home with both sword and pen' --Sunday Telegraph

'An endlessly engrossing history of the sword and those who wielded it . . . Cohen's pen is equally as mighty as his sword'
--Independent on Sunday

From the Inside Flap

"By the Sword is an epic history of sword fighting--a science, an art, and, for many, a religion that began at the dawn of civilization in ancient Egypt and has been an obsession for mankind ever since. With wit and insight, Richard Cohen gives us an engrossing history of the world via the sword. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The book is an impressively researched history of fencing.
As such, the main goal is the concept of one-on-one combat, first as duels, then, progressively, as a sport.
While the book devotes some pages to swords in general, their military use, and their role in other cultures (like Japan) the majority of the text is devoted to the west and to non-military uses of the sword (including staged fights for movies and theatrical plays).
What the book excels at is a vivid portrait of fencing, with hundreds of historical figures, episodes and little-known facts. As such it is pretty entertaining even for people (like me) who know little or nothing about fencing.
On the other hand, I feel that after having read it I have absorbed a lot of trivia on the subject, but I still feel pretty ignorant about fencing. The author often uses technical terms (tierce, fleche...) which I am unable to visualize in my mind, and this somehow diminishes the experience: lots of the fights described in the text would probably be more striking if I were able to understand what happened.
In a sense, is like reading an history of chess, including the various quirks of famous historical masters, without actually know anything about the game itself.
Perhaps what I wanted is too difficult to express on paper, or would have required too much dry pages with drawings and pictures. The book is still pretty accessible to the layman, and is fun to read, anyway, and I understand why the author prefers to go for the historical episodes and short portraits of famous fencers instead of drab technical pictures.
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By Martin Turner HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 Dec. 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of all the weapons of war and combat, the sword has fascinated more and for longer than any other. 'By the Sword' is an entertaining, informative and eminently readable journey through the history of swordsmanship from gladiators to Olympic athletes, taking in the antics of famous swordsmen and swashbuckling filmstars, and including an interesting (but hopefully not too helpful) section on how to cheat.
Somebody wrote recently in the Times that fencing is the new rock and roll. Its comeback in the film business, and particularly the work of Bob Anderson on -- among others -- the Lord of the Rings and others gets due treatment in this book.
Whether you are a fencer, or a former fencer, or a lover of interesting stories and interesting characters, this is a book to linger over long winters evenings or bright spring mornings.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable book on "swordsmanship" through the ages, with fascinating historical tidbits on the equipment and accoutrements, and many exciting, funny (and horrific) anecdotes concerning fencers and duellists. The book has many interesting footnotes, which alone almost justify the purchase price. Here, for example, is one on armor: "It was never called a 'suit of armor,' a phrase that arose only about 1600, but always 'harness.' The expression 'he died in harness' does not mean that a man was, at death, doing his job like a horse, but that he was wearing full armor. 'Armed' originally meant wearing armor- not carrying a weapon." In another footnote in the section on dueling, Mr. Cohen comments favorably on the Greenland Inuits manner of dueling: When a Greenlander considers himself to have been insulted, he challenges the offending party to a "duel of wits." Each man, supported by seconds, composes a satirical song. The songs are sung in front of an audience, which acts as a jury and votes for a winner. After that, the matter is considered to be settled and the men must be friendly towards one another. (This is certainly a lot more civilized and a lot less deadly than the traditional duel!) The book covers every area you could possibly want to know about- there are sections on knights, duellists, samurai, musketeers, swordplay in the movies, Olympic competitors, sword manufacture, injuries, etc. In the section on samurai Mr. Cohen mentions that it was common practice for the warriors to test the sharpness of their new blades by hacking up the corpses of criminals who had been executed! The more corpses you could chop up before having to stop to sharpen the blade, the better the weapon.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As your looking at this book I will belive you are interested in the subject, so go ahead put it in your basket & proceed to check-out. You'll be happy you did. Only possible drawback is it's not a light weight read.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well written book and an impressive work. I quite like it, yet there are things that annoy me and which pulls down my overall appreciation of it
Being a sport fencer since the age of 13 myself, I share Mr Cohen's lifelong love of the sport. I have taken part in international fencing (epée though) and have met (and fenced) many of the persons mentioned in the text. My own fencing master, Bela Rerrich, is being mentioned (p. 403) as well as my ideal as a fencer and boyhood hero Hans Jacobsson. I also have a strong interest in general history as well as fencing history. Of course my background and my insight into fencing gives me another perspective than that of an ordinary reader when I review the book.
My first impression is that Mr Cohen has tried to cover everything about fencing. Such an ambition of course means that the author has to handle parts of the subject where he is not an expert. It also takes its toll of the reader. Sometimes I think the text loses focus and find myself turning a few pages ahead, to see when the chapter ends and what comes next. It is as if Mr Cohen is too much in love with the subject to let go of any part of it. Even though himself a publishing director, I think he would have benefited from the eyes of a critical editor who could have cut down the total text with at least one fourth.
The weakest parts are in the beginning of the book where the history of fencing is described. As example: one, in the history fencing, very important incident is the duel called the "Coup de Jarnac" in 1547, after which French kings never again granted duellists a field for fighting a duel and thus forced duelling to be an all illegal act. This also of course had implications on fencing and how it was being regarded.
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