Empire of Guns covers a lot of ground. Extraordinarily (and, at times, excessively) detailed chapters address the evolving state of the gun trade in Birmingham; the 'myth' of pacific British industrialism and the reality of continuous war; the 'social life' of guns in England, Africa, India and North America; the relationship between guns, money and private property; changes in the firearms industry after 1815; and opposition to the gun trade over the past 200 years ... By focusing on a single toxic activity, Satia concludes, rather harshly, both sides avoided 'the truth that modern life is founded, intrinsically, on militarism and that industrial life has historically depended on it.' Satia appears to believe that things have not gotten better in the 21st century. To be sure, four “developed” countries (Japan, Great Britain, Australia and Canada) have enacted legislation to reduce gun violence ... A $72 billion industry, with England as the second-biggest supplier, augmenting the political power and economic prowess of governments and 'private' contractors, arms exports are not likely to decline anytime soon.
The book traces the evolution of the literal and symbolic uses of small arms down to the present day, when sales of weapons remain robust. The various international attempts to control or limit small-arms sales are discussed. This important book helps us to look at British and United States history in an unconventional way and makes for great reading.
Whether guns were the deciding factor without which England would not have industrialized is open to question. Satia does not hang her thesis on precisely this point; instead she marshals an overwhelming amount of evidence to show, comprehensively, that guns had a place at the center of every conventional tale historians have so far told about the origins of modern, industrialized world—cultural, scientific, organizational, economical, and political ... The context of such debates has changed, in part as gun technology and gun use have changed. This book leaves us with the disquieting notion that guns—whether the slow and inaccurate weapons of the eighteenth century or today’s models—do more than alternately cloak or expose human inclination towards violence. They also shape it—not just at the individual level, as we are accustomed to debating, but at the societal, even civilizational or global, level as well. 'As we make objects, they make us.'