Julia Keller's new book about an old gadget is reviewed by the Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley, who doesn't seem to like it much. He finds its too representative of a journalistic bad habit, trying to weave poetic myths out of mundane subjects made interesting because of the blood they left in the ground: "Keller is given to broad strokes, sweeping generalizations, large claims and overheated prose."
That said, it's fascinating to read that Gatling's death-machine was inspired by an earlier invention of his, one both mundane and humane – a mechanized seed-sprayer.
One of his agricultural inventions, a seed planter, was the inspiration, Keller believes, for the gun: "Fed by a gravity-driven hopper, the seeds dropped, one by one, into the furrow. Gatling couldn't get that process out of his mind: its rotating simplicity, its smooth mechanical perfection."
The most effective use of Gatling guns during the civil war, Keller writes, was by the New York Times, which lined them up outside its offices to scare away a mob of anti-conscription activists upset with its editor's outspoken criticism of them. They were far more successful among police departments and factory owners than as actual military weapons – as intimidating as they were ineffective, they made perfect security theater.
Jonathan Yardley on 'Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel'