Offering a panoramic view of American culture during Colt’s life, Rasenberger covers everything from bad poetry and cholera epidemics to the politics of slavery and Western expansion. Along the way, he gives us a picture of technological change and the rise of industry. His book’s most important contribution of all: showing how this history was rooted in horrific violence and oppression ... The hidden figures of the Colt legend—often passed over by other biographers and Colt himself but highlighted by Rasenberger—were the gunsmiths he hired ... Rasenberger successfully subverts the myth of lone inventor that so plagues biographies of this sort ... Like most technologies, Colt’s revolving firearms did not take off until they found users, and it’s here that Rasenberger’s account most excels ... Rasenberger’s Revolver leaves us in no such doubt: New England arms makers mass produced repeating firearms, and the US military and westward-traveling settlers used those weapons to put bullets in other humans, especially nonwhites ... Rasenberger’s Revolver helps us see something beyond the economic efficiency of these techniques: how Colt’s story and the story of his methods fit within the United States’s own imperial ambitions, enabling new levels of bloody violence, oppression, and even genocide.
Cleareyed and honest, Rasenberger portrays a complicated figure who combined real mechanical insight with a talent for hucksterism. His book has flaws, of course: overlong passages, too much speculation, an absence of endnotes in the print edition. (Rasenberger is posting them online.) A familiarity with recent scholarship might have produced a more sophisticated depiction of Native Americans’ shrewd responses to repeating firearms. But Revolver is rewarding biography, highlighting Colt’s place in the history of industrialization.
... a lively biography of Samuel Colt ... Mr. Rasenberger doesn’t seek to score points one way or another, saying instead that he has 'no agenda other than to honestly tell what happened to Sam Colt, his gun, and America in the years 1814 to 1862' ... There are any number of gun books out there that assume the form of technical manuals for collectors and hobbyists, but Revolver, written with a journalist’s sense of color and a historian’s eye for the revealing detail, is an exceptional biography of an archetypal 19th-century American inventor and businessman. And while it’s always tempting to lament, 'we shall not see his like again,' in fact we already have—in Silicon Valley, where venture capitalists fund the modern Porterites, nowadays known as engineers, computer scientists and coders, tinkering with stuff to create the future.