BOOKSELLER Annie Clay, from The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley reviews the Dorling Kindersley book, Weapon, available in hardback at £25.

WARFARE – older than civilisation, older even than humankind itself – is a fundamental aspect of humanity’s existence. Even in our earliest primitive days, we used a huge variety of weapons for hunting and raiding, from bows and spears to clubs and sharpened rocks. Over time, with the inevitable development of weapons alongside the advancement of society, basic settlements became villages or towns and armies were formed; ‘the means and weapons for waging wars increased correspondingly in sophistication and effectiveness.’ Since then, the way in which wars are fought has been constantly transforming as revolutionary weapons and warfare methods emerge, and others fall out of fashion. Swords, for example, had become largely ceremonial weapons by the twentieth century, seemingly futile in a world of advanced hand-held firearms.

Weapon, a Dorling Kindersley publication in association with the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, covers humanity’s use of weapons from the very first flint weapons (used approximately 1,500,000 years ago) through to the modern firearms of the twenty-first century. Chronologically laid out, with detailed timelines, illustrations, and labelled photographs of thousands of original and reproduction weapons, Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour is a fascinating, and frankly essential book for anyone with even a remote interest in the history of warfare.

The examination that takes place in Weapon of the development of weapons in different parts of the world offers an intriguing insight into the progress of humankind; there are ‘illuminating similarities between weapons in entirely different cultures and periods’ – an observation that lends a certain significance to the history of mankind as a whole. What’s more, the functions of weapons are ultimately more complex than we tend to give them credit for; from hunting, self-protection, and law-enforcement to religious symbols and badges of status and wealth, weapons have always been more central to our societies than is immediately obvious.

Weapon also addresses aspects of weaponry not directly related to the infliction of injury upon an enemy. Armour is addressed as a crucial aspect of warfare, often serving to terrify or impress enemies. This is particularly noticeable in the European jousting helms in the fifteenth century; a German sallet featured in the book bears a painted flame pattern, a feature that would no doubt succeed in intimidating an opponent!

The chronological sections of the book – The Ancient World, The Middle Ages, The Early Modern World, The Revolutionary World, and The Modern World – serve to create logical time periods that group together significant developments of weaponry. Interspersed throughout these groups are featured ‘Great Warriors’ and ‘Weapon Showcases’, which are well-chosen to allow for elaboration on some noteworthy aspects of warfare covered in the book.

For every weapon featured in this book there is a wealth of detailed, factual information, enough to satisfy the most dedicated of military obsessives. Yet it’s equally enjoyable to flick through the pages and wonder at the creativity and initiative that humans have been driven to in their quest for dominance. All in all, this is a fabulously detailed and richly illustrated compendium of arms and armour which makes the most brutal and deadly objects appear grimly fascinating and chillingly beautiful.