‘The Guns of John Moses Browning’ Book Review

The Weapons of John Moses Browning: The Exceptional Story of the Inventor Whose Firearms Modified the World, by Nathan Gorenstein, Scribner, New York, 2021, $28

It’s no exaggeration to say that inventor John Browning’s firearms modified the world. The holder of 128 firearm patents, he invented such seminal army weapons because the Colt M1911 semiautomatic pistol, the Winchester Mannequin 1897 pump-action shotgun, the M1895 gas-operated machine gun, the .50-caliber M2 (“Ma Deuce”) machine gun and the M1918 Browning Computerized Rifle (the BAR of World Struggle II fame). Based on creator Nathan Gorenstein, producers worldwide have rolled out an estimated 35–40 million firearms patterned after the inventor’s designs. That quantity, Gorenstein concedes, is nearly definitely too low when one considers the numerous knockoffs, in addition to firearms influenced by Browning’s designs. “As Henry Ford was to cars, and Thomas Edison was to electrical energy,” the creator writes, “Browning was to firearms.” But for many of his life the sensible inventor remained obscure. Gorenstein goals to treatment that with this primary complete biography of Browning.

Browning got here from humble, prodigious inventory. Born in Ogden, Utah Territory, in 1855, he was the son of Mormon gunsmith Jonathan Browning, who along with his three wives fathered 22 youngsters. John (No. 13) tinkered in his father’s workshop from age 6 and by his mid-teens was a talented metalworker who may restore or copy any gun dropped off on the store. It was a dwelling, however not sufficient for the gifted and curious younger man. As he’d dealt with just about each out there firearm, Browning’s thoughts hummed with concepts for enhancements and fully novel actions. “As quickly as I began to make the gun,” he recalled, “I discovered my head so stuffed with elements that my best problem was sorting them out.” Considering in three dimensions, he eschewed blueprints in favor of trial-and-error slicing, chiseling, drilling and submitting within the workshop. In 1879 the 24-year-old filed his first patent, for what would develop into the Mannequin 1885 single-shot rifle, with Browning’s revolutionary and strong falling-block motion—the debut design of many who stay in use in the present day.

Working in partnership with the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., Browning went on to create the favored Fashions 1886, 1892, 1894 and 1895 lever-action rifles, in addition to the Mannequin 1887 lever-action shotgun and the Mannequin 1897 pump-action shotgun (the devastating American “trench gun” of World Struggle I that, sarcastically, drew diplomatic protests and threats of retaliation from Germany). When Browning in the end sought royalties from Winchester somewhat than the single-fee funds he’d been receiving, the corporate declined, prompting him to pitch his designs to different producers, together with Remington, Savage, Stevens and Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale (FN). Maybe the largest beneficiary was Colt, which produced his M1895 “potato digger” (the world’s first profitable gas-operated machine gun) and the M1911, historical past’s most enduring semiautomatic pistol design, variants of which stays in use by army and legislation enforcement organizations worldwide. Browning additionally invented the favored .45 ACP cartridge and a half dozen different cartridges of varied calibers.

Gorenstein makes no bones in regards to the dichotomy of the gun itself. “Firearms indisputably occupy each ends of an ethical spectrum beginning at good and ending at evil,” he writes. “Pistols, rifles and machine weapons can defend a nation and liberate a individuals, or conquer a land and slaughter its inhabitants.” He’s additionally cognizant of their simple affect on world occasions. “One is hard-pressed to quote a significant historic occasion because the mid–nineteenth century that was not began, completed or modified by a gun.” Integral to the event and enchancment of that transformative device was Browning. “His innovations,” the creator notes, “modified how hunters hunted, how armies fought, how individuals protected themselves, how crimes have been dedicated, what legal guidelines have been handed and the way individuals have been killed, the harmless and responsible each.” Gorenstein delves into the small print behind Browning’s designs and storied profession, which introduced him nice wealth and, in the end, the celebrity he’d largely averted in his lifetime. That exceptional life resulted in 1926 after the tireless 71-year-old inventor suffered a coronary heart assault on the FN manufacturing facility flooring in interwar Belgium.

—David Lauterborn

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