The Gunning of America

The Gunning of America : Business and the Making of American Gun Culture

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Americans have always loved guns. This special bond was forged during the American Revolution and sanctified by the Second Amendment. It is because of this exceptional relationship that American civilians are more heavily armed than the citizens of any other nation.Or so we're told.In The Gunning of America , historian Pamela Haag overturns this conventional wisdom. American gun culture, she argues, developed not because the gun was exceptional, but precisely because it was not: guns proliferated in America because throughout most of the nation's history, they were perceived as an unexceptional commodity, no different than buttons or typewriters.Focusing on the history of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, one of the most iconic arms manufacturers in America, Haag challenges many basic assumptions of how and when America became a gun culture. Under the leadership of Oliver Winchester and his heirs, the company used aggressive, sometimes ingenious sales and marketing techniques to create new markets for their product. Guns have never sold themselves" rather, through advertising and innovative distribution campaigns, the gun industry did. Through the meticulous examination of gun industry archives, Haag challenges the myth of a primal bond between Americans and their firearms. Over the course of its 150 year history, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company sold over 8 million guns. But Oliver Winchester,a shirtmaker in his previous career,had no apparent qualms about a life spent arming America. His daughter-in-law Sarah Winchester was a different story. Legend holds that Sarah was haunted by what she considered a vast blood fortune, and became convinced that the ghosts of rifle victims were haunting her. She channeled much of her inheritance, and her conflicted conscience, into a monstrous estate now known as the Winchester Mystery House, where she sought refuge from this ever-expanding army of phantoms.In this provocative and deeply-researched work of narrative history, Haag fundamentally revises the history of arms in America, and in so doing explodes the cliches that have created and sustained our lethal gun culture.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 528 pages
  • 162 x 241 x 45mm | 816g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • B/W photos throughout
  • 0465048951
  • 9780465048953
  • 652,804

Table of contents

Introduction: "The Art and Mystery of a Gunsmith" 1. The American System 2. The Crystal Palace 3. "Scattering Our Guns" 4. "More Wonderful Than Practical" 5. Model 1866 6. "Gun Men" and the "Oriental Lecturer" 7. "Spirit Guns" 8. "The Unhallowed Trade" 9. The "Moral Effect" of a Winchester 10. Balancing the Ledger 11. Summer Land 12. The Gun Industry's Visible Hand 13. Learning to Love the Gun 14. Mystery House 15. "Grotesque, Yet Magnificent" 16. Overbuilding 17. The Soul of the "Gun Crank" 18. King of Infinite Space 19. The West That Won the Gun 20. "Merchants of Death"
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Review quote

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review "[A] fascinating account... Both convincingly argued and eminently readable, Haag's book will intrigue readers on all sides of the gun control debate." Bookforum "Pamela Haag's careful history aims to debunk the whole myth of gun exceptionalism in America... She reminds us that early American attitudes toward guns were far more prosaic than heroic...[and] that modern age gun-rights ideology stems from the nineteenth century's 'market revolution'--i.e. the moment when cheap and reliable mass produced firearms first became available to a national buying public... Haag's account also challenges the notion that the manufacture of guns in the country has always had to keep pace with robust demand. She convincingly demonstrates that early twentieth-century gun makers set out to create a series of myths around guns and sell them to the public by reimagining them as an indispensable adjunct to American liberty... Haag also unearths another inventive breakthrough engineered by the early twentieth century's mass-merchandisers of the gun: the discovery of a new type of consumer...dubbed the 'gun crank.'" Kirkus "A refreshingly unusual approach." Carlos Lozada, Washington Post "[A] fascinating exploration of the major businesses and families that have manufactured firearms -- and manufactured the seductiveness of firearms -- in this country over the past 150 years... Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over [the repeal of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act] in March...[They] could do no better than to read The Gunning of America to understand the history behind this argument and, as Haag puts it, to 'ponder the virtue, and the terror, of feeling more conscientiously or spiritually complicit than is required by contract, economy, law, or society.'" New York Review of Books "A revealing new account of the origins of America's gun industry." Boston Globe "In her remarkable new book, The Gunning of America, historian Pamela Haag undercuts much of the charged rhetoric about the importance of firearms in the nation's culture and history with a richly sourced, empirical look at the 19th century origins of the gun business and the men who made it... Against the popularized notion that guns were central to the making of America, Haag offers a powerful counter-narrative... One book will not settle the long-running gun debate, but Haag has powerfully reframed the issue as one rooted in dollars and sense, not the Second Amendment and inalienable rights... Her historical brilliantly on display in these pages." New Republic "In her masterful The Gunning of America, Pamela Haag furnishes a salutary corrective to the perception of the gun's inevitability in American life by showing its history as a commodity invented and then deliberately marketed and distributed like any other widget or household appliance. Backed by vast research in the company archives of Winchester, Colt, and other manufacturers, her book is a mixture of analysis and close-focus biography of the many sturdy and sometimes strange early Americans who rode to wealth on the back of firearms... [A] beautifully composed and meticulously researched volume." San Francisco Chronicle "[An] inspired new book... Haag's book is strongest when it upends the belief that America has had an uninterrupted love affair with guns." Times Literary Supplement (UK) "Haag excels in decoding the succession of commercial promotions that helped to produce gun exceptionalism... [B]y tracing the evolution of advertising campaigns, she pinpoints how guns found their way into each corner of everyday life" Maclean's, (Canada) "[A] detailed and devastating history... Haag deftly deconstructs the idea that guns have always been central to American identity." Adam Winkler, "Haag uses the remarkable story of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to illustrate how American gun manufacturers remade America's gun culture. In pursuit of sales, Winchester and other companies marketed their products as tools of empowerment. This effort, launched in the 19th century, transformed a mundane object into a potent symbol of American liberty and kick-started the modern gun rights movement." Carlos Lozada, Washington Post on Twitter "This book makes the best case I've read on holding gun manufacturers responsible for gun violence." David W. Blight, Class of '54 Professor of American History at Yale, and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory "The American gun industry taught the country to love guns. This fascinating and disturbing book is a riveting history of the men and families that made the guns that made America's gun culture. Pamela Haag shows conclusively that this country's tragic obsession with guns is not part of our political origins, or our constitutional and moral DNA; it is the result of marketing and industrial capitalism. Our gun culture was made, not found; it emerged less from creativity than from cold pursuits of profit. The fortunes made selling guns had nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Good history like this will not be read by the politicians and lobbyists who sustain the gun manufacturers today, but it should be." John Mack Faragher, Howard R. Lamar Professor of History, Yale University "Pamela Haag has written a very smart book, deeply researched, original, provocative. The compelling narrative makes a powerful argument about the origins of America's gun culture." Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, Stanford University "Pamela Haag has accomplished a rare feat. She combines wonderful storytelling with a serious analysis of the firearms business to reveal how the Winchester Repeating Arms Company taught Americans to love guns."
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About Pamela Haag

Pamela Haag holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale University. Her work on a diverse range of topics has appeared in many venues such as American Scholar, NPR, Slate, and the Times (London).
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Rating details

227 ratings
3.27 out of 5 stars
5 12% (27)
4 27% (62)
3 41% (93)
2 16% (37)
1 4% (8)
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