Book Review: Hatcher’s Book of the Garand

We firearm enthusiasts can be an unlucky bunch when it comes to reference materials. Some of what we consider “common knowledge” has been repeated back and forth so many times that nobody can point to the original source anymore. When we do get a good reference book, it only sells a few thousand copies and quickly becomes nearly impossible to find, save for a few poorly scanned excerpts on Google Books. Some of the best identification guides on collectible firearms have been out of print for decades and even a badly abused copy can sell for well over $100. As someone who writes articles about historic military firearms for Leatherneck magazine, it can be immensely frustrating to know that information on a piece of military history is out there somewhere but impossible or prohibitively expensive to access.

It is a distinct pleasure, therefore, to tell you a little bit about one of my favorite firearm books, one which is available online for less than $12 in paperback form. Hatcher’s Book of the Garand (ISBN 978-1-934044-26-1, also published as The Book of the Garand) is considered one of the authoritative guides on the development, design, and service history of the iconic M1 rifle.

Julian S. Hatcher served in the U.S. military from 1909 through 1945, retiring from the Army at the rank of Major General. It would take half a page to list all of Hatcher’s qualifications as a small arms expert, so suffice it to say he was one of the foremost authorities of his day, and not just as a researcher. He spent most of his military career in important positions in the Ordnance Department and various government arsenals supervising the experimental rifle projects that would culminate in the adoption of John Garand’s design as “U.S. Semiautomatic Rifle, Caliber .30, M1.” His Book of the Garand takes the reader through this process, all the way from foreign inventors’ early experiments before the First World War, through the Army’s crash program in the 1920s to find a replacement for the bolt-action M1903 “Springfield,” to the political controversy and manufacturing difficulties surrounding the new rifle’s adoption.

Most Americans with even a passing interest in firearms are aware of the M1 and its use in the Second World War. Many of those with an interest in historic military arms even know of the competing designs from John Pedersen and the last-minute change from .276 caliber to .30-’06. Most of the information available on these, however, comes from secondary sources and is somewhat lacking in detail and nuance. Hatcher’s Book of the Garand is probably one of the most detailed works in this specific area of history, including diagrams, testing reports, and even firsthand accounts by Hatcher himself, who was directly involved in the American semiautomatic rifle program from start to finish. The book is not even just a history of how the M1 came to be, though—barely over half the book covers that. It also investigates the rifle’s performance in combat and competition, debunking contemporary and even modern myths with a mix of hard facts and humorous anecdotes. In between fascinating historical accounts, the reader is also treated to a wealth of information on the rifle’s technical characteristics, ranging from basic disassembly procedures to a breakdown of the steel alloys used in different parts.

In short, there is almost nothing Hatcher’s Book of the Garand leaves out with regards to its subject matter. It is rightfully regarded as one of the best historical and technical resources on the M1 rifle, written by one of the foremost experts on the topic aside from John Garand himself. I have used this book as a reference in my own professional writing and found it an enjoyable read as well as an informative one. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in historic military firearms in general or the M1 in particular. Plainly said, the book is excellent, and you are doing yourself a disservice by not picking up a copy. It would be a good value at $70, but I found paperback copies at multiple online bookstores for $11.66 and for a popular e-reader platform for $7.99.