Book Review: Handguns of the World

I normally don’t have all that much interest in coffee table type gun books – the glossy photos are nice, but they generally don’t have all that much actual information. I had assumed initially that “Handguns of the World” was another of these books, but I was quite mistaken. I initially gave it a second look because of the author – Edward Ezell is a very well-respected author of gun books, and I really enjoyed and appreciated his doctoral-thesis-turned-book, The Great Rifle Controversy.

What I found when I opened up his “Handguns of the World” was not a glitzy picture book, but instead an illustrated technical history of military handguns. The book (all 704 pages) is in black and white, but includes copious drawings, diagrams, and photographs of some pretty unusual and interesting handguns. What really grabbed me was the amount of research that went into the work, as Ezell goes into detail explaining the history and development of many of the families of pistols we know today, like the 1911 and the progression of open-slide Beretta automatics. And this doesn’t just cover self-loaders; military revolvers and their heritage back to the early Colt Paterson are covered in equal detail.

As of the time of writing, prices for used copies start at $1.63, which is basically like finding a copy just lying in your front yard. So if you’re interested, don’t delay – this is definitely a steal:


  1. I’ve had a copy of this book for years and still reach for it frequently. There is information and history in it that you won’t find elsewhere and for me, that makes it an important book.

  2. Yes, it’s my go-to reference for 20th Century military handguns. It supplanted Small Arms of the World in that role because it is much more detailed. When I showed up for what was then Special Forces Light Weapons School, the instructors saw my then-shiny-new copy and begged to borrow it to update and extend their curriculum. (The pistols taught then were, IIRC, S&W revolver, 1911, Browning 1935 HP, Walther P38, Tokarev TT, Makarov PM.

    No author is without error, but Ezell came awfully close.

  3. At such stealing prices I think it’s time to buy myself another copy, as I have literally read mine to shreds. The book is much too thick for it’s doubtful sturdiness, and after a while it starts to disintegrate because the glue is quite shitty. So now I have a unique 4-volume edition in one set of covers 🙂 BUT – the necessary ingredient in such disintegration is the abusive reading, and at one time I knew large chunks of it almost by heart. This was my first REAL handgun reference, after coffee-tables, and I still remember buying it in 1990, for the proceeds from my first gun publication.
    With time I came to realize it’s shortcomings (mostly in all things east of Germany), but hey, man has to start from somewhere! And H.O.W. is still a very solid stepping stone. Catch it while it lasts, folks, really.

    • Thanks for posting; this is good for quick review. Yes, nice “orbus picti” on handguns and it surely feeds collector’s passion well. Good for encyclopedia type of knowledge.

      On the other hand I found on flight thru it couple of vagaries. Also the fact is that there is not really possible to get in-depth information on particular subject (and where it is part of handling the gun yourself), if you want go into detail of it. 2D pictures good, 3D are better, if available. Meet the reality; its good overall though.

  4. I’ve got that book – bought it at the old “Bookstop” a forerunner to Barnes & Noble in the 80s…excellent reference along with W. H. B. Smith’s ‘Small Arms of the World’ which I also bought at the aforementioned Bookstop in the mid-late ’80s…unfortunately both are (and have been)long out of print.

    CB in FL

  5. Yes Etzel is good, but as in all books covering many itims, there are always some week points. In this book it is clerly what Etzels strong points are. He still reproduses some of WBH Smiths mistakes. But his strong points, are rearly good. I use this book every week

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