... [an] important new book ... as a veteran journalist who has covered the association for years, [Smyth] has gleaned abundant material, from interviews to tax filings to court briefs to archives of the organization’s (numerous) magazines. The fact that no other popular history has ever been written by anyone not on the NRA’s payroll means that Smyth’s book is a worthwhile intervention; it also means that the book’s shortcomings and unevenness are worth studying ... Smyth documents the NRA’s early years, rich in paradox and incident, with verve ... As a seasoned investigative journalist, Smyth is particularly good at following the money. He skillfully exposes how NRA funds have been used to prop up ersatz advocacy groups and think tanks ... For all the excellent work it does at dismantling the NRA’s myths about itself, and at laying out the biographies of some of its key modern players, Smyth’s book has some striking blind spots ... A bigger issue, though not unique to Smyth’s book, is the tendency to see the NRA as singularly powerful and to overlook its position within a broader network of conservative organizations ... Smyth’s combination of eagle-eyed precision and odd credulity is even more disappointing when it comes to the recently exposed interactions between the NRA’s leadership and shadowy figures in a so-called 'gun rights' movement in Russia ... But the gaps in his history underscore the key problem of thinking about the organization, which is far bigger than Smyth’s book. The NRA arguably looms larger than life in the American consciousness because it also somehow gives America back, refracted and intensified, to itself.
... balanced ... The author, a gun owner and a supporter of gun control, thoroughly documents the NRA’s internal debates, tortuous efforts to rewrite its public image and history, and recent efforts to recruit celebrity advocates ... The book is meticulously detailed, sometimes overly so, including investigations into the NRA’s internal debates and parliamentary process. Still, libraries looking for a nonpartisan history of the organization will be well-served.
Journalist Smyth debuts with a balanced and accessible history of the National Rifle Association ... Smyth chronicles the NRA’s internal debates with painstaking detail, though the organization’s secrecy prevents jaw-dropping revelations. Readers tired of partisanship on both sides of the gun control debate will appreciate this straightforward overview.