"Glock: The Rise of America's Gun" (Crown), by Paul M. Barrett: An exploration of the ubiquitous firearm, "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun" works best as a corporate history of its creator and the money machine spawned by his invention. The book fires its only blank when it unconvincingly loads cultural and social messages into the story of Glock's success.
Austrian businessman Gaston Glock didn't know anything about handguns when he decided, in 1980, to compete for a contract to manufacture a new sidearm for the Austrian army. He had been making car radiators and running a metal shop that produced field knives and bayonets for the army.
Ignorance was on his side. As author Paul M. Barrett explains, the 50-year-old Glock came to the competition without the history — or the baggage — of major firearms manufacturers. It was all new to him. He also made a point to ask firearms specialists what they wanted in a new pistol.
The first handgun to bear Glock's name was lighter, thanks to its nearly all-plastic assembly, and it had far fewer moving parts than the competition. It still managed to accommodate a larger magazine and, significantly, provided a safety mechanism that reduced the possibility of an accidental discharge. By using a computerized manufacturing process, Glock could churn out his high-quality 9mm product relatively cheaply.
Selling the Austrian army was the easy part. Getting the pistol in the hands of Americans, the big time in terms of the firearms market, was beyond Glock the inventor. He lucked into hiring people who understood that winning over law enforcement agencies would open the door to massive sales. Even moviemakers got on board, helping turn the simple black pistol into the fearsome ugly duckling of action movies.
Barrett, a journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek, provides an eye-opening look at such matters as Glock's practice of buying old handguns from police departments that "Glock up" and then reselling them on the market. Less enlightening are his descriptions of his forays into Glock culture and his analysis of the role of Glock in the handgun debate. His conclusion — that Glock "is not a particular villain within the fraternity of firearms. Nor is it a hero" — sounds like a way to avoid an argument.
Powered by an incredible fortune, the Glock story includes corporate skullduggery, office politics with a dash of sex and betrayal, and even an attempted murder. It makes one think: Money doesn't kill people — people kill people.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks" (University of Wisconsin Press).