Book Review – Handguns of the World by Edward Ezell


If I had to choose just one firearms book to keep (for some inexplicable reason), Edward Ezell’s “Handguns of the World” would be on the short list of books to consider. It is a remarkable combination of history and mechanics, or the most common and the most obscure, and extensive detail at a bargain price. It was published by Barnes & Noble, apparently along the lines of the seemingly endless variety of “Gun Encyclopedia” books that have a bunch of glossy pictures and less information than Wikipedia. The difference is that Edward Ezell was a firearms historian of the highest order and wrote an extremely informative book instead of the usual shallow overview.

At 700 pages in length, “Handguns of the World” focuses on automatic pistols from their first appearance in the 1890s until the end of World War Two (you will not find post-war designs here). It includes chapters on each country in the world involved in handgun development, including the US, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Finland, Japan, France, the UK, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. Whether you want to know about the Luger or 1911 or the Hino-Komuro or Sosso, it’s all in here. The early chapter on military revolvers provides a very good backdrop for the semiauto development, and also includes a very cool chart of such guns categorized by lockwork type – something rarely covered by other authors.

The two negatives I would express about the book are its photography and its scope, if I can be so demanding. The illustrations are all black and white, and some are pretty dark. It would be nice to see a full-solor glossy edition, although such a thing is clearly not going to happen. It would also be nice to have the scope of the book extend past 1945, to cover more recent developments, like SIG and Beretta lines among others. That said, asking for such things is truly the definition of looking a gift horse in the mouth, when you consider what this book does contain, and for what price.

I would strongly recommend Ezell’s “Handguns of the World” for both the advanced collector and the complete novice. Both of them will get a lot out of it. Available here from Amazon:


  1. I have two copies, because No. 1 became so dog-eared and footnoted through constant use that I needed a second “file” copy in good shape.

    With me, that only really happens to books that are so useful that I’m constantly referring to them.

    Happy New Year, Ian and everyone.



  2. The link shows used starting at $40 and new at $110. I have a second hand 1977 “Small arms of the World” that has his name on it but I think was done by somebody else based on Ezel’s writings.

    • I have a slightly older copy of that book, very heavily worn. I think the co-author at the time was WEB Smith and later Joseph Smith was added. That was really my only firearms reference book from the mid-70’s to mid-90’s.

    • W.H.B. Smith started Small Arms of the World as the Small Arms Guide during WW2. He wrote the historical section found in all editions of SAOTW up to the 10th edition.

      After his death in 1959, Joseph W. Smith (no relation), Aberdeen Proving Ground, took over writing the country-by-country section. The section on sporting and civilian arms that first appeared in the 9th edition was by Maj. George Nonte.

      Following J. Smith’s death in 1975, Edward Clinton Ezell took over writing and editing SAOTW. While at the same time finding time to write, edit, and revise his own books on handguns, the Kalashnikov rifle, and the small arms in use by all nation states, not just the major ones.

      Incidentally, a three-part series on the life and firearms design work of W.H.B. Smith can be found here;



    • Agreed. I do recall seeing some great illustrated books on small arms (and weapons in general) at a used book store (too bad I didn’t have enough personal spending budget at the time). The colored illustrations were old-style, probably hand drawn during the 1980’s or earlier. They just don’t make good technical drawings the way they used to do them…

      • Since I was of early age I used to love those early coloured illustrations you talk about. I had gotten my hand on lots of agricultural machinery literature (text books and manuals) and also saw machinery first hand. It encharmed me for life. Motorcycles, planes and guns came later manly because of steady flow of war movies on television (high of cold war).

        Later in college I enjoyed electric science and chemistry. They are tie to each other with mechanisms, hand in hand.

        • If you like good executed illustration then see:
          Эволюция стрелкового оружия, ч.1
          Эволюция стрелкового оружия, ч.2
          available here:
          by В.Г. Федоров (designer of Fyodorov Avtomat)
          it deals with development of guns to 1938 year.

  3. Very nice review. I always looked at it as a continuation of the “Small Arms of the World” line, but strictly devoted to pistols.

    I eagerly await the Ian McCollum series of books following in the footsteps of W. H. B. Smith. A rather daunting undertaking, so I hope I live that long.

  4. I often use my 1981 copy as a reference. Its coverage of military pistols pretty much coincides with my interests. I find the self loading pistols much more interesting than the revolvers, even though my own handgun collection is roughly 55% wheelguns.

  5. I am sure the price on the amazon link went above $500 earlier today (1st Jan). It has settled back to $253.52. Presumably this price bring more of them onto the market.

  6. The power of Forgotten Weapons. So it seems a ton of us decided if Ian said you need this book we needed the book. I went the Ebay route and placed an order last night. This morning I got a refund and a note from the seller. Seems yesterday she got overwhelmed with purchase requests for a book that usually sits quietly. Cheers!

  7. This is the book Mr. M should memorize before examining actual weapons. One or the other of them has been wrong or misspoken occasionally; usually I’m betting on Ezell to be right.

    One other fault of this usually excellent tome is in the overall design: paragraphs jump over oddly to the next column, photos of certain weapons are pages away from the references to them in the text, and some photo captions are transposed or simply wrong. This last is a fault in many of the other coffee table gun books — comes from having non-gun-familiar designers, proofreaders, and editors put things together.

    The same with history-ignorant designers in general: Just read a book about American airmen in the RAF during the Battle of Britain. Cover photo? Spitfire chasing an FW 190! The latter not fielded (aired?) until two years later!

  8. I already had this and two copies of Small Arms of the World, including a vintage copy that includes the United Arab Republic. I did head to Amazon and found Small Arms Today 2nd edition by Ezell. It is mostly just lists of the handguns,rifles,submachine guns, shotguns, machine guns, and automatic cannons fielded by ALL the countries. I did pick up a few tidbits so far. Apparently the Belgian Navy issued Colt 1911A1 pistols and the Bolivian police used Remington Nylon 66 rifles.

  9. 14th Jan After failing to $528 the price quoted on amazon has gone back up to $922.50, with the prospect of it reaching a thousand! I assumed the fantastic price would bring more books to market, especially as many have written that they have two or more copies, and thus bring the price down, but that does not seem to be happening.

    This shows just how significant Forgotten Weapons has become. This has not been so obvious with past book reviews because most of the books were either niche books in the gun book market and/or limited editions or already rare; often with Ian’s “…once they’re gone there won’t be another edition!” warning. So there were not enough books available for demand to shoot up.

    This however was a mass market book available at $30 or less, all of which got bought within hours, possibly minutes! And it seemed no price was too high for those wanting the book! When a book about handguns becomes more expensive than a handgun that is significant.

    If Barnes & Noble had any sense they would be rushing a new imprint of this out now.

    • Do not assume that many copies are being sold at high prices. A lot of the on-line pricing for out-of-print books is done by fairly dumb algorithms that are sensitive to the number of searches, rather than the number of sales. They also tend to place a price premium on first editions that’s irrelevant to people who just want the content.

      As an example, search for “GURPS Thaumatology,” a role-playing-game book by a friend of mine. The first edition was in 2008, at about $40. There was a paperback reprint in 2016 at $30, which is print-on-demand, and will remain available indefinitely. There are still vendors on Amazon asking between $60 and $139. I think their prices were about twice that before the reprint.

  10. I was not aware of this use algorithms in the used book market. It makes what has become a fascinating story even better for me. Is it an Amazon algorithm? I have always assumed anyone selling set their own price.

    Would I be safe in assuming the jump from $528 to $922 was the result of somebody buying a book?

    Additionally there is actually one copy available on eBay now, which I guess will be sold at a true market value, not a mathematically created one? The present bid is $101 with a few days to go.

    Having looked back through a few years of Ian’s book reviews I get an impression that a positive review for an out-of-print but not rare book increased the price by 3 to 5 times; but that is only an impression. If the review does not give a price it is hard to be certain of what the base price was; especially as I wrote nothing down. Perhaps someone studying economics and/or the internet might want to do it better as an academic exercise.

    P.S. Amazon price on the Ezell is presently $948

    • I don’t think it’s Amazon’s algorithm, because the same effect shows up on other used book sites. That price jump might be due to a purchase, or just to a lot of searches – I don’t know. An eBay selling price is at least a price that someone paid, rather than something set by a dealer or algorithm. eBay bidding prices before the end of a sale are not solid: bids can be withdrawn.

  11. 18 Jan a copy has just sold on eBay for $101. Which is 4 to 5 times the base price; or what I reckoned the average increase that happens with a good review of a second hand book from Ian.

    Yet Amazon claims it is available from $999! So Amazon are either lying or it’s system is screwed. If I really wanted this book I would have taken one look at the Amazon price and given up. I would not even have bothered with eBay because I would have assumed Amazon had a market price rather than a computer generated fantasy one. How can that help anyone? I am genuinely baffled by this.

  12. I have a Handguns of the World Hardcover Book, by Edward C. Ezell for sale. I would like 200.00 US for the book. It is in mint condition.

    I also have many more gun and gunsmithing books available. Please email me
    if you are interested.

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