Bookshelf: Guns of Outlaws

Tiburcio Vasquez, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, John Dillinger—these are the American bad men Guns of Outlaws ($20) is concerned with. Tracing the history of outlaws in America from the end of the Revolution to the Old West to the Great Depression, Gerry and Janet Souter catalogue the most notorious and storied criminals of American folklore, along with their guns.

If you’re looking for detailed biographies or Jesse James or a more comprehensive history of the American west, look elsewhere. Guns of Outlaws is mainly about guns, featuring hundreds of pictures of actual outlaw weapons, archival pictures, and illustrations. The last moment’s of Dillinger’s life are interesting—but so is his tommy gun. Tiburcio Vasquez has some prescient things to say about injustice in pre-statehood California, but we’re here for his Henry rifle. Lawmen are featured too, like Bass Reeves, Wyatt Earp, and Melvin Purvis.

Guns of Outlaws offers a neat look at the speed and degree of technological change in firearms over the past two centuries, along with the innovative (and occasionally silly) ways criminals altered their guns. Reading this book is a bit like spending a few hours in the museum—except the Souters travelled to a dozen or so to make this book. Good thing—makes it more convenient for us.

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