By the Sword
Elizabeth Berg
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Buy *By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions* online

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions
Richard A. Cohen
Random House
416 pages
November 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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By The Sword is exactly what the title claims: a history of swords and swordsmanship. Author Richard A. Cohenís narrative spans centuries with this extremely well-researched and entertaining read, a fact that will certainly delight readers of ancient and modern warfare. Cohen has researched the history of duels and combat by sword, from the gladiators of ancient Rome to the fencing masters of today Ė and everything in between.

Part One explores the use of blades from the ancient Egyptians to the use of swords in the Battle of Waterloo. It covers the history of gladiatorial combat, the weapons used, and the rewards of survival and brutality. Part Two offers a lesson in finesse, and covers the history of the art of swordsmanship, from the greatest sword makers to how to maintain and manage the "perfect thrust." Part Three is incredibly entertaining, as it covers duels and the gentlemanly pursuit of honor Ė the rules of dueling from the fields of Europe to America.

Competitive fencing is explored and thoroughly researched as the book moves forward to post-World War Two, into fencing competitions, and finally as it is covered as an Olympic sport. While readers may find some chapters much more entertaining than others, the entire book as a whole is one giant history lesson, full of odd tidbits of knowledge and interesting facts. For example, how many readers know that in 1942, the United States War Department expected soldiers to come into contact with an enemy adept at wielding swords and even printed a field manual for how to deal with such a situation?

Heavily illustrated with drawings and photographs that break up large blocks of narrative to provide a bit of relief from the amount of information delivered with the pages of this text. These etchings, drawings and sketches offer vivid proof that "those who live by the sword invariably die by the sword," in a way that brings history to life.

Cohenís book is more than a history specifically about swords and swordplay Ė itís a history of how people advanced from the brutal barbarism of the Coliseum to a specific code of conduct that must be followed to the letter in order to settle differences and arguments all over the world. Duels were, after all, a matter of honor, and the rules had to be followed to a tee if one was to retain his dignity.

Cohen is not only a fine author; he is a five-time United Kingdom National Saber champion whose expertise in this field shines through in his book illustrating the history of this type of combat. This book is a must for blade collectors as well as weapons enthusiasts and history buffs. Its pages are highly entertaining, extremely illuminating, and exceptionally well-researched.

© 2003 by Denise M. Clark for Curled Up With a Good Book

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