A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2015
Listed among the top five books of 2015 by The Hill Times
After a fifteen-year hiatus from the world of guns, journalist, sports shooter, and former soldier A.J. Somerset no longer fit in with other firearm enthusiasts. Theirs was a culture much different than the one he remembered: a culture more radical, less tolerant, and more immovable in its beliefs, “as if [each] gun had come with a free, bonus ideological Family Pack [of political tenets], a ready-made identity.” To find the origins of this surprising shift, Somerset began mapping the cultural history of guns and gun ownership in North America. Arms: The Culture and Credo of Gun is the brilliant result.
How were firearms transformed from tools used by pioneers into symbols of modern manhood? Why did the NRA’s focus shift from encouraging responsible gun use to lobbying against gun-safety laws? What is the relationship between gun ownership and racism in America? How have the film, television, and video game industries molded our perception of gun violence? When did the fear of gun seizures arise, and how has it been used to benefit arms manufacturers, lobbyists, and the far-right?
Few ideas divide communities as much as those involving firearms, and fewer authors are able to tackle the subject with the same authority, humor, and intelligence. Written from the unique perspective of a gun lover who’s disgusted with what gun culture has become, Arms is destined to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.
Praise for Arms
“What makes his book entertaining, often funny and ultimately an important addition to the limited canon on guns is that Somerset is a gun guy. He owns them, shoots them and loves them. And yet he is exasperated because gun owners, along with their culture and rhetoric, have increasingly ‘grown more radical,’ leaving ‘anyone who breaks ranks’ as a ‘traitor to the cause.'”—Michael S. Rosenwald, The Washington Post
“By digging deep into history, brushing off dusty lawsuits, and pounding some pavement, Somerset manages to avoid all of the clichés about North American gun politics and overturn everything that is held to be gospel. This is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism and surprisingly entertaining.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Every political question evokes emotion, but a few [like gun control] are so bound up with visceral feelings that even close friends find it hard to disagree over them without rancor and exasperation … [Somerset] has a fine talent for narrative writing … Valid and thoughtful.”—Wall Street Journal
“What we talk about when we talk about guns: How did they become as American as baseball and as sacred as Jesus? And is there any going back? These are among the questions explored by a onetime soldier in an unflinching journey across our cultural battlefields.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A one-time soldier, [Somerset] paints a convincing picture … Yet he maintains a consistent sense of humor—self-deprecating, gruff, curmudgeonly.”—Globe & Mail
“[Arms is] a pleasingly acerbic popular history—an equal-opportunity lambasting of everyone from American gun weenies to Canadian cultural nationalists.”—Maclean’s
“Somerset’s writing is an odd but effective mix of classic argument/thesis prose and zippy school-of-New-Journalism narrative a-la Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe… Once you tune into his blending of third-person research with first-person anecdotes, the book pulls you along. Arms entertains — even as it educates.”—The Winnipeg Free Press
“There are big parts of the book I disagree with, but [A.J. Somerset is] a very good writer. There are passages that are great … really, really interesting.”—Cam Edwards, NRA News’ Cam & Co.
“Rambling, tragic, and surprisingly funny.”—Quill & Quire
“A timely book that informs our ongoing conversation about gun violence.”—Gill Deacon, CBC’s q
“A great book.”—Emily Keeler, National Post
“A.J. Somerset’s excellent — and, yes, timely — work of cultural history and social psychology goes behind the headlines … in an attempt to locate the ‘wellspring of crazy’ that has created today’s neo-Wild West. Witty and informed.”—Waterloo Region Record
“In Arms, Somerset investigates the evolution of the gun as technology and as totem, exploring how a simple tool transformed into the symbol of a nation and a nation divided.”—Inverse.com
“A very interesting read … and not what you might expect … if gun culture fascinates you … I’d encourage you to check it out.”—Ryan Jespersen, CHED Radio
“Absolutely fabulous.”—Terry Moore, The Drive (CFAX Victoria)
“Thought-provoking … A well-researched perspective on … gun culture that can appeal to gun rights novices and those who are already well-versed in this debate.”—McGill Tribune