Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel : The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It
A Pulitzer Prize winner explores the role of the first machine gun in transforming America into a superpower
Although it was little used during the American Civil War--the time in which it was invented--the Gatling gun soon changed the nature of warfare and the course of world history. Discharging two hundred shots per minute with alarming accuracy, the world's first machine gun became vitally important to protecting and expanding America's overseas interests. Its inventor, Richard Gatling, was famous in his own time for creating and improving many industrial designs, from bicycles and steamship propellers to flush toilets. A man of great business and scientific acumen, Gatling actually proposed his gun as a way of saving lives, thinking it would decrease the size of armies and, therefore, make it easier to supply soldiers and reduce malnutrition deaths. The scientists who unleashed America's atomic arsenal less than a century later would see it much the same way.
In Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel, Julia Keller offers a riveting account of the Gatling gun's invention, its misunderstood creator, and its tremendous impact on American and world events. She also shows how the gun, in its combination of ingenuity, idealism, and destructive power, perfectly exemplified the paradox of America's rise as a world superpower.
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 2008 Reed Business Information.
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May 28, 2008
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