Monday, October 12, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Tommy: The gun that changed America by Karen Blumenthal

I picked this up for a book club (we were reading books about pivotal Americans or American events) but I found it so interesting I decided to feature it on my blog and add it to my list of teen nonfiction I've been making to bolster this small section.

The book opens with a vivid picture of a violent robbery, using a Thompson submachine gun, or Tommy Gun. Then it plunges into the history of the famous weapon, starting with the Gatling gun during the Civil War and progressing into the development of the Tommy gun. Once the gun was finally perfected, the wars it was made for were over and the company was left with a superfluity of powerful machine guns. They marketed them to individuals and police departments, but it was the gangsters and criminals of the 1920s who made the "Tommy Gun" a famous weapon. Blumenthal weaves the beginnings of the NRA and the first attempts at legislative gun control, the development of police departments and the effects of Prohibition with grim stories of the role the Tommy gun played in criminal and racial killings. The concluding chapter explains how the Tommy gun fell out of favor and the ongoing effects of its development on gun control and culture.

This is written in a way that will be accessible to teen readers. More serious discussions of legislation and how the gun fits into history are interwoven with the stories of criminals and "G-Men" that caught people's fascination in the 1920s. Blumenthal presents the history neutrally, letting readers draw their own conclusions about how history has affected current controversies like gun control or the development of the FBI.

Verdict: It's not easy to get teens to read "serious" history books, but exciting stories and detailed descriptions of weaponry are sure to grab both eager and reluctant readers. As far as age-appropriate, there are gory stories but the violence is neither sensationalized nor skipped over and Blumenthal, while not emphasizing the graphic details, gives an honest portrayal of the crimes and tragedies.

ISBN: 9781626720848: Published 2015 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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