Book Review

I didn’t know of the existence of this book until I saw it for sale on BidOrBuy. Now, everyone who likes guns (should) know who John Browning was, but I don’t know how many people actually realise the impact this man had on the development of firearms in general.

The story starts with Jonathan Browning, JMB’s father, who moved to Salt Lake as part of the great Mormon migration (because of religious persecution) in 1847. He, too, was a gunmaker, and this is where JMB and (some of) his brothers got started (they were 22 siblings in all). The book follows JMB’s life, describing not only his well-known frequent trips to Winchester, but also the less well-known two year period where he did missionary work as required by the Mormon church (It seems that JMB’s religion was no deeper than required by society, he didn’t have time for anything but designing guns, good ones). The story ends, as we know it must, in Belgium, where JMB died, in his son’s office at Fabrique Nationale.

The book gives extra insight into the familiar stories (the salesman from Winchester, the shotgun Winchester didn’t want), but it also contains a lot of new (to me) material. There’s also a lot of background information which recaptures the era and gives a better understanding of how things were and why things happened the way they did.

“I wonder from time to time,” John once confessed to one of his sons, “whether we are headed in the right direction. For instance, we are making guns that shoot farther, harder, faster, and calling it progress.” He shrugged, “If just getting farther and farther from your starting place is progress, I suppose the meaning we usually give to the word is correct. But if we limit the meaning to movement towards a destination where the most pleasure and satisfaction are to be found, then this progress we brag about is just a crazy, blind racing past the things we are looking for — and haven’t the sense to recognise. And,” he grinned, “in the matter of guns, that makes me crazier than most.”

Recommended to anyone with any interest whatsoever in JMB.

John M. Browning, American Gunmaker, by John Browning and Curt Gentry. Amazon is currently out of stock, but Midway does show stock. Or use your google-fu.