Small Caliber Book Reviews: The Guns We Left Behind, By Phil Hirsh

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Since I started this series, I’ve reviewed books according to criteria of relevance, appropriate audience, strengths, and weaknesses. This method is a shortcut allowing me to provide a compass for my readers without wasting their time.

This time, though, I’m reviewing a book that’s different from my usual subject. It doesn’t seek to inform – not in the traditional sense, anyway – so much as it does to entertain. So for this installment, I’m throwing out all my carefully calculated and weighed criteria and instead, I am just going to talk about Philip R. Hirsh III’s latest anthology of short stories, called The Guns We Left Behind: Tales Of Culture and Caliber.

How do I summarize, compress, bottle a collection of tales, fables, and yarns without getting lost? I could start at the beginning.

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The image used to create the cover for The Guns We Left Behind. This image and others used in the book are available on the book’s website.

 

Given the subject matter of the book, I can think of no better firearm to feature than a rifle that was conceived in Belgium by the apprentice to the (Mormon American) greatest firearms designer in history, originally based around a Nazi rifle cartridge, shaped by the whims of American bureaucracy and government, adopted and used by the fledgling Jewish state, and finally rebuilt in semi-automatic for the American commercial market. The rifle is, simply, oozing with history. So is Philip’s book. In it, the reader finds tales of the duck blind, of relatives soldiering on in the Second World War, fictional (but plausible) tales of self-defense both physical and verbal, and of doing things that in the moment were surely exhilarating but in hindsight were clearly foolish and dangerous.

One story of the latter kind that Phil tells is of his father and his friend in St. Croix, using a rental car to drive-by-hunt dove with a .410 shotgun. After many successful, if unsporting, outings, the inevitable happens and the shotgun obliterates the back seat, neatly missing Hirsh Jr’s arm and torso. Through pure serendipity, Phil’s father not only walks away but gets away with it, too.

These sort of irresponsible and dangerous defenses against boredom were nevertheless present in Phil’s generation’s early years, and downright common in the childhoods of his father’s generation. In his writing, Phil is careful not to judge these things too closely – history happened, even if the present looks on in horror. This contrast, between what Phil calls “the Golden Age of guns” and our modern world filled with cares from the sensible to the politically correct, is the single most evident thread common to all the episodes. After reading, I want to ask “that was the youth of their generation, what will the next be like?” Filled with crushing responsibility and nannying, surely, but hopefully no less alive.

Some of the stories are outright funny, but others – such as the retelling of a feral cat that threatened a Hirsh family gathering – carry an undertone of humor that Phil leaves as a sort of slow-punchline. The feral cat story, for example, is prefaced with a dead serious warning about the dangers of feral cats and the diseases they can spread, but the story ends with a Hirsh holding a smoking .243 the whole family (kids and all) unintentionally witnessed him use to neutralize the particularly obnoxious feral. The joke is told punchline-first for more effect; feral cats are dangerous, dontcha know!

Phil writes well, and his latest book reads easily for when the brain wanders and needs something to occupy it. The nature of anthology meant I read it leisurely, but I didn’t feel it was ever difficult to work through or clunky. If we can convict Phil of any literary crime, it’s writing dialogue that is as descriptive and colorful as his prose. For that, I’ll only level misdemeanor charges.

I don’t think The Guns We Left Behind is for the easily offended, or those liable to take everything seriously. It deliberately includes episodes of reckless abandon and excess – all involving firearms – that would make some look away in disgust. “Oh! That’s totally reckless and irresponsible!” a voice in my head said at some scenes. Yes, but it happened, is the response.

The Guns We Left Behind can be purchased on Amazon for $12 US, in new paperback.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Esh325

    The FAL has been kind of left behind with most military and police. FN doesn’t make them anymore to my knowledge, and most militaries who adopted them aren’t using them anymore. The Brazilians seem to be the only ones still going with the FAL, with the IA2.

    • The FAL’s time is past, that’s true. The IA2 is actually substantially not an FAL anymore, though the architecture is similar.

      • Esh325

        The gas system and trigger mechanism are of the FAL I believe, the rotating bolt however is different.

    • Marco Antonio Gonzalez

      The FN FAL still see some rather sporadic use in Venezuela. The rifle is meant to be used by the militia or reserve corps.
      Some were seen on infantry hands during the last “Escudo Bolivariano 2015” maneuvers

    • Mr. Kill

      DSA is making some for mil/leo groups. Anti-poaching game rangers in South Africa, Kenya etc. are currently getting new FALs from DSA. They trust the FAL design more than others and have FALs in stock already, beyond a generous discount from DSA.

      • Esh325

        There are examples here and there, but for the most part it’s been largely past over for other rifles.

  • Daniel

    What does it matter that JMB was Mormon? It has no bearing on the story whatsoever and is just another example of dividing people and placing them in different subgroups. More and more “whatever-Americans”, so why even include it?

    And it’s 2015. Spellcheck and proof reading still apply.

    • Don Ward

      Because the goal in that paragraph was to show how diverse the rifle was. Hence Nathaniel used the literary device of pointing out its cultural antecedents. Belgium, Mormon, Nazi, Jewish, American. If you are that awesome of a writer yourself, surely you must have the reading comprehension to note what is going on in that paragraph.

      • Don Ward

        Clearly the appropriate critique would read “I don’t think Nathaniel’s article on “The Guns We Left Behind” is for the easily mortified, or those liable to take grammar seriously. It deliberately includes episodes of reckless abandon and excess – all involving spelling – that would make some look away in disgust. “Oh! That’s totally reckless and irresponsible!” a voice in my head said at some misspelled words. Yes, but it happened, is the response.

    • Could you point out what typos or errors you are talking about, so that I can correct them?

      • Y-man

        Hi Nathaniel F. Please take a look at Line 32 [Or 33] and correct “dangerous” to “dangers”. Thanks. Great article!

        “Some of the stories are outright funny, but others – such as the retelling of a feral cat that threatened a Hirsh family gathering – carry an undertone of humor that Phil leaves as a sort of slow-punchline. The feral cat story, for example, is prefaced with a dead serious warning about the dangerous of feral cats and the diseases they can spread, but the story ends with a Hirsh holding a smoking .243 the whole family (kids and all) unintentionally witnessed him use to neutralize the particularly obnoxious feral.”

  • Herr Wolf

    Nazi rifle cartridge- derp

  • Nat F, you seem like a good writer; So when are you going to write your own book?

    • Gotta finish the Light Rifle series first, or Kevin Harron will kill me.

      • Kevin Harron

        Yep.

  • The Believer

    Or $5 on Kindle.. pulled that lever.

    Are you guys aware of the Amazon affiliate link functionality? I would have thought that of all the gunblogs, ‘TFB’ would be the one making use of this.

    • “Not my department” says Wernher von Braun. 😉

  • noob

    “that was the youth of their generation, what will the next be like?”

    I think that computers, encryption, bitcoin and network penetration are the new guns. Everyone had a gun, once upon a time, and people did great things and foolish things with them. Now all the kids have computer connected to every other computer. You don’t need a license to have one. IF you are smart you can preserve some of your anonymity (nb: I am not smart). If you are skilled you can change peoples lives, or end them.

    One day, maybe someday soon, old fearful men will try to tame the computer as many countries have tried to tame the gun.