The Book of Swords by Hank Reinhardt
I had already been a big fan of the fantasy genre when, as a young teen in the mid-eighties, I opened my family’s mailbox to discover the Museum Replicas Limited catalog for the first time. Of course, a glossy magazine full of swords and other weapons would be entrancing, but I remember being struck by all of the historical details that were provided about each item. It was the combination of that catalog and Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books – with their wonderful, subtle magic and Dark Ages feel – that opened my eyes to the fact that history could be every bit as engrossing and wondrous as fantasy.
Hank Reinhardt was the force behind putting that catalog into my hands. While we lost Hank in 2007, we have a chance for one last look into the mind of a true devotee of the form, function, history, and use of one of the most culturally and martially significant weapons from humanity’s historical arsenal.
The Book of Swords is 235 pages, 9 by 6 inch soft cover, with numerous black and white illustrations and photographs. It is printed on what looks like a fairly low quality paper, which might not be best suited for long endurance. The cover price is $20.00 U.S. It includes an Editor’s Preface, Hank’s own introduction, and fourteen chapters: 1. Copper and Bronze; 2. Iron and Steel; 3. Design and Geometry of Swords; 4. Wounds and the Effects of Swords. 5. The Viking and Early Medieval Sword; 6. The Fighting Milieu in the Viking and Early Middle Ages; 7. European Swords: The Rapier and the Smallsword; 8. European Swords: The Saber; 9. European Two-Handed Swords; 10. Eastern Swords: The Katana; 11. Eastern Two-Handed Swords; 12. Exotic Blades: African Swords and the Kukri and its Origins; 13. The Basics of Cutting; 14; Fighting with the Sword.
In the Editor’s Preface, Hank’s wife, Toni Weisskopf Reinhardt, sets the premise of the book as a long conversation with Hank, as opposed to a pure scholarly work, and it is an apt description. The flow of topics and chapters is not always smooth, but Reinhardt uses much more intimate and personal language, giving the text significantly more life than the average book of historical research. On the other hand, a serious researcher would be hard pressed to use The Book of Swords as a source in itself, as it contains few primary citations. It could be a useful springboard for research, however, as each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading from the editors.
Having read at least a couple dozen other books on historical weapons, I was pleased to find that Reinhardt had thoroughly covered topics that I had rarely if ever seen before. In particular, a section in Chapter 3(Design and Geometry of Swords) under the header “How Swords Work”, Chapter 4 (Wounds and the Effects of Swords), and the final two chapter (The Basics of Cutting and Fighting with the Sword) were particularly engaging, and clearly show the authors relationship with the sword. For Hank Reinhardt, swords were not historical artifacts excavated, researched, commented on, and hung on a wall behind glass, but dynamic tools, whose beauties and idiosyncrasies were found in their use. In the last chapter, he extensively details his long experience doing so, and those years spent with a sword – steel or practice –in hand let him speak with a unique authority on a subject that is frequently extolled in a dry and dusty manner.
For the serious scholar, the book could be seen as a bit of a let-down. I would have liked to have seen full citations myself, but I can appreciate the difficulty for Reinhardt’s wife and friends coming to a such a body of work in Hank’s tragic absence. But for any enthusiast for the history of the sword, any budding fantasy or historical fiction author that wants to inject believability into scenes of combat, or any admirer of Hank Reinhardt’s body of work, I have no hesitation calling The Book of Swords a must-read, and must-have for one’s library.