Magazine December 15, 2008, Issue

Politics in the Round

A hunter fires during a sighting-in and test-firing for the upcoming deer hunting season in Joliet, Ill., 2011. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)
American Rifle: A Biography, by Alexander Rose (Delacorte, 512 pp., $30)

The rifle is an instrument of politics, and Alexander Rose’s new book, American Rifle: A Biography, is a study in the realpolitik of pushing lead. Beginning with the rifle’s early days in the capitalistic ferment of colonial Pennsylvania’s German enclaves and progressing through the M16’s challenges in Iraq, Rose has written one the most interesting nonfiction books of the year.

Rose begins with a portrait of George Washington — literally, with Charles Willson Peale’s painting of the father of our country: Washington’s middle-aged body is squeezed into a tailored uniform dating from his youth. Along with the details of his

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