For several thousand years, the sword held sway as the pre-eminent weapon of choice. And almost from the start it seems to have been realised that practice in swordplay could be stylised as a sporting contest; an Egyptian relief from Luxor dated around 1190 BC clearly depicts two men fencing, complete with judges.
Richard Cohen's endlessly engrossing history of the sword and those who wielded it takes us from the Minoans to the modern day with utmost erudition and authority, laced with apposite and often startling anecdotes and asides – while it somehow comes as no surprise that fascists such as Benito Mussolini and Oswald Mosley were keen fencers, it appears that the Communist giants Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels could have given them a run for their money on the piste.
Cohen is equally eye-opening about the dark arts of match-rigging and cheating in competition, and he should know, as a five-time UK sabre champion who also competed in four Olympics. His pen is equally as mighty as his sword.
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