Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Booknote: Glock

Paul Barrett, Glock: The Rise of America's Gun. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012. ISBN: 9780307719935. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history, biography, politics, firearms, inventions
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

This book on the Glock pistol and its rise to become the most popular handgun in the United States is quite interesting. The book is not just the history of how Gaston Glock invented the pistol bearing his name and how his company managed to take the U.S. market. It is also a look at American gun culture and its obsession with firearms as well as an overview of late 20th century gun politics and events in the United States. Some of those events I actually can recall.

Glock is the Austrian pistol that pretty much singlehandedly changed America's gun preferences. For a long time, Americans were in love with their revolvers. Sure, some folks used semiautomatics from other brands. However, once Americans warmed up to the "ugly" Austrian gun, they bought Glocks in droves and made the gun's inventor, Gaston Glock, a very rich man. Glock's other big coup in the United States was becoming the pistol of choice for cops and law enforcement. That cachet just helped the gun further in winning the day in the United States.

Though at times the book offers some technical details to help us understand how Glock's invention works and why it was and remains so innovative, such details remain fairly accessible to the common reader. You do not have to be a gun enthusiast to appreciate Mr. Glock's genius in creating a very easy to use and to carry firearm, a gun that is much less complicated than other semiautomatics. Now, I am not a gun enthusiast, but the author's descriptions and details make curious enough I'd want to try a Glock pistol out. As I have no intention of buying one (or any firearm, plus I am on a librarian salary, and guns are not cheap), maybe I can find a friend who has one and is willing to teach me at a range. But I digress.

In addition, the book at times does read like a novel. The book is also a bit of biography of Gaston Glock and some of the people who worked for him and around him. Glock started from humble origins, but like many such types who come to wealth suddenly, he found himself corrupted by the money and power. So did some of the folks around him as the newfound wealth incited greed. In many ways, the story of Glock and his invention is a tale of corporate deeds and misdeeds and human greed. Heck, we even get strippers and lawsuits and assassination attempts along the way. Yet, in the end, Gaston Glock invented such a great high quality product that even if they screwed up things royally in the workplace the gun basically sells itself. In that sense, the Glock pistol is truly a tribute to the inventor's genius.

The book is definitely a solid piece of history and reporting. Add to this the look at 20th century gun history and policy in the U.S., the lobbying, the lawsuits, the legislation, and the corporate maneuvers, and it all makes for interesting reading. Additionally, the book does include a selected bibliography that can help readers wanting to learn more.

4 out of 5 stars. 

As a final note, this book likely shares appeal factors with the following:

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Additional reading notes:

From the book's bibliography, I am adding these two books to my TBR list:

Glock becomes the American handgun:

"The Glock, introduced in the 1980s, inherited all aspects of the American firearm heritage: It was seen as an instrument of law and security, but also menace, danger, and fear. It became the handgun of choice for cops and a favorite of some demented mass killers. Its black plastic-and-metal construction set it apart from everything else on the market, suggesting modernism and efficiency. The handgun is the weapon Americans really care about, and within a decade of arriving here, the Glock had become the ultimate American handgun" (21). 

In the gun industry, all publicity is good, and Glock illustrates that principle:

"The Glock's success illustrated that in the gun industry, all publicity is good publicity, and high-profile enmity from anti-gun forces is the best publicity of all" (50). 

The book also reveals secrets and debunks some myths. For instance, many people think that cops are highly trained with guns and are even gun enthusiasts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a big reason police departments switched to Glocks is that the guns are so easy to use even the less competent cops can use them:

"A dirty little secret of law enforcement is that many cops don't take range time seriously. And even in high-crime cities, the vast majority of officers go years, or even an entire career, without getting into a gunfight. The average officer is a mediocre shot, or worse" (55). 

Another reason Glock easily overtook the American gun industry was the usual American arrogance and complacency:

"The story was similar to that of the American auto industry; gun makers in the United States had lost ground to foreign competitors more diligent about engineering and quality control. That is how Toyota sneaked up on General Motors" (57). 

A bit on how Colt and Glock were similar:

"In many ways, Gaston Glock became the Sam Colt of the twentieth century. It is an assertion that might offend some American handgun historians and revolver loyalists But it is no exaggeration to say that a pair of Austrians--a reticent engineer and his ambitious salesman-- set about to remake the handgun business in the United States" (67). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: 

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