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From Rocks to Rockets: Arms and Armies through the Ages    by William Gilkerson order for
From Rocks to Rockets
by William Gilkerson
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

William Gilkerson's From Rocks to Rockets: Arms and Armies through the Ages reminds me of 1066 and All That, in its irreverent approach to history. This brief and easily digestible history lesson focused on the arms race comes illustrated with amusing cartoons that typically show the many ways in which mankind gets it wrong, from friendly fire to failures in new technology. Not only is it hilarious, but there might be a lesson or two in there for those who look closely.

It all begins In the Beginning ... when rocks - and CHAOS - ruled the day. As populations grow, armies began to need organization, with tacticians, quartermasters, and officers (Gilkerson shows them riding dinosaurs, which might be placing the officer rank a little too early in history!) Next we see CIVILIZATION giving the armies uniforms, standardized weapons and discipline - we learn about the Greeks and then 'The ROMANS came, and they fought everyone. During slack periods, they fought themselves.'

Moving on to the MIDDLE AGES, I love the jousting and castle siege illustrations. In the late Renaissance, we're told that 'Columbus discovered another huge area in which to fight.' Weapons technology continues to advance, with gunpowder and bayonets (shown here toasting dinner over a fire). Advances in INDUSTRY make weapons even bigger and TRANSPORTATION moves armies faster - 'All these new weapons enabled the peoples who owned them to take other, less fortunate peoples under their protection.'

Gilkerson concludes by summing up THE MODERN ARMY's 'high degree of organization' but reminding us that there is still (as in the beginning) 'the gradual development of weapons ... and CHAOS'. His final picture shows mankind taking its weapons off the planet. This small volume makes a great stocking stuffer for anyone on your list with a sense of irony and an interest in human history.

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