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This title in other editions

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions


By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. How would you fight a duel? What weapon would you choose? If a sword, what kind-a broadsword, a rapier, a nineteenth-century dueling épée? A samurais katana? How would you behave-and what would you expect from your opponent?

2. Why has the sword proved to be such an object of fascination over the centuries? Will its symbolic value survive? Now that fencing is “only” a sport, will interest in swordplay wane?

Will its symbolic value survive? Now that fencing is “only” a sport, will interest

in swordplay wane?

3. Does fencing have a moral or philosophical significance? Much of By the Sword discusses different ideas of honor. Do you agree with the authors analysis? How does the book judge the conduct of Mayer, Pawlowski, Onishenko, and Beck?

Do you think honor has any part to play in modern swordplay, or is it, in Ben

Jonsons words, “a mere term invented to awe fools”?

4. How well did the code of personal honor, derived from chivalry, control the violence of dueling from the sixteenth century on?

5. The novelist Sebastian Faulks has described By the Sword as reading at times “like an alternative social history of the West.” What do you find to support this view? Another reviewer noted that the “antagonism of the aristocratic and plebeian are the twin strands of a teasing dualism that lies at the heart of nearly all swordplay,” and that this “emerges as the unspoken theme of the book.” Do you agree?

6. To what kind of person does fencing appeal? Why did so many right-wing politicians find it attractive? Do you think that individual nations can be characterized by the way they fence?

7. The relationship between master and pupil is a theme that runs through the book. What makes a good master? What makes a good pupil? Are there inherent dangers in the relationship?

8. Richard Cohen describes swordplay as romantic. Is it? How do you think modern fencing compares with that of previous ages? Has something important been destroyed, or has fencing evolved in the same way any sport evolves?

Product Details

Cohen, Richard
Modern Library
New York
Military - Weapons
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Modern Library Paperbacks
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.9 x 5.1 x 1.1 in 0.9 lb

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » Ancient Weapons
History and Social Science » Military » General
History and Social Science » Military » Weapons » General
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » General
Sports and Outdoors » Martial Arts » General
Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Martial Arts » General
Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Miscellaneous Sports

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions Used Trade Paper
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Product details 560 pages Modern Library - English 9780812969665 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A vivid and hugely enjoyable pageant of extraordinary tales . . . irresistible."
"Review" by , "A virtual encyclopedia on the subject of sword fighting."
"Review" by , "A fascinating story told with literary verve."
"Review" by , "Like swordplay itself, By the Sword is elegant, accurate, romantic, and full of brio — the definitive study, hugely readable, of man's most deadly art."
"Review" by , "Cohen loves the punctilious dressage of fencing...and is particularly drawn to instances where this vanished world has given us a cultural legacy.... His narrative style, too, with its outspoken opinions and talk of fair play, embodies the "heroic archaism" that so evidently delights him."
"Review" by , "There are copious playful asides as footnotes filling the reader in on wonderful facts and anecdotes. For those with even a casual interest in fencing, Cohen's work will be a delightful read; he brings the daunting breadth of the history of the sword within easy reach of the curious."
"Review" by , "A literate, learned, and, beg pardon, razor-sharp history of fencing and kindred martial arts, by an English Olympian and saber master."
"Synopsis" by , Napoleon fenced. So did Shakespeare, Karl Marx, Grace Kelly, and President Truman, who would cross swords with his daughter, Margaret, when she came home from school. Lincoln was a canny dueler. Igantius Loyala challenged a man to a duel for denying Christ’s divinity (and won). Less successful, but no less enthusiastic, was Mussolini, who would tell his wife he was “off to get spaghetti,” their code to avoid alarming the children. By the Sword is an epic history of sword fighting—a science, an art, and, for many, a religion that began at the dawn of civilization in ancient Egypt and has been an obsession for mankind ever since. With wit and insight, Richard Cohen gives us an engrossing history of the world via the sword.


With a new Preface by the author

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