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400 Years of Insanity
Paul Kirchner: Dueling with the Sword and Pistol
© 2013 James LaFond
Usually, when I review a book on this site it is because I have read it some time ago, decided to keep it, and have recently not been able to resist the temptation to read it again. I am not a reviewer. For the most part I am just providing our readers with a heads up concerning exceptional literature. I have read a lot of lousy books in my time. I see no sense in taking up space here griping about a painful or wasteful read, when I could recommend something that you might well enjoy.
Despite my long reading list, and the 700 odd pages I must read before I can complete the novel I am working on, I could not keep my paws off of this book by my fellow Paladin Press author, who is also quite a good illustrator.
Dueling with the Sword and Pistol
400 Years of One-on-One Combat
Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2004, 468 pages
This book is closely related to Paul’s Deadliest Men volumes, which are reviewed below under 85 Reasons to be a Pacifist. Part Four, in the back of the book, belongs in that collection. However, where Deadliest Men is a collection of mini-biographies, Dueling with the Sword and Pistol has more thematic material, since the author has to explain the ritual activities. He does this in a concise fashion and then moves directly into the meat of the book, which consists of accounts of certain duels, including the cause and aftermath.
The book is divided into major portions and two supplementary sections. Part One is a history of sword dueling from the mid 1500s through the early 1900s, told primarily through accounts of encounters between rival duelists. The highlight of this section is Chapter 11, Dueling in the Army of Napoleon. A common theme throughout the book is that each nation seems to embrace dueling according to its own peculiar psychosis. When it comes to sword dueling the crazies were the French.
Part Two covers pistol dueling, which was embraced with a disturbing intensity by the Germans. The cover of the book is telling, and places the single shot black powder pistol duel in the center of the dueling complex: in the psychological realm. When you view the fine illustration of two prissy aristocrats standing three paces apart in a dining room, between the table and an officer prepared to drop a napkin to signal the fireworks, you do not think, “Wow, what skill and training that must require.” Your first thought is, “That is insane!” My second thought was, “The spectators are nuts too, standing nearly in the field of fire—but at least they are drinking!”
As good as the rest of the book is a liked Part Three the best. This section details variations of the duel, such as mounted duels, the tale of an 18-inch tall dwarf duelist, bowie knife duels, the American frontier shootout, and even a bizarre form of suicide. My favorite line from the book comes from an 1866 newspaper report, and follows the description of a truly horrific bowie knife duel between two former CSA cavalry officers, “We understand that all the parties to this outrageous and disgraceful proceeding reside in Mississippi.”
Anyone interested in fencing, weaponry, knives, pistols, violence, or irrepressible homicidal jerks, will enjoy this journey into the mind of the ritual combatant; a lucid retrospective view of his death, and the death of his code.
Congratulations Mister Kirchner.
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db     Mar 27, 2013

Didn't the 19th Century Germans have a rather structured duelling code? I seem to remember mark Twain having come caustic comments on the subject.
James     Mar 27, 2013

Yes Sir. If you want as many details as you can stomach read Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany, by Kevin McAleer. I read it in 2001, and rate it very highly.
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