This book is based on three standard Osprey books, on the Longbow, Crossbow and Composite Bow, with some updates to reflect more recent research, and an extra chapter on the Japanese Yumi (a form of composite bow). There are also cross-references between the four sections, making this feel more like a proper book in its own right and less like a compilation work.
Each section is of great interest in its own right. The author has strong views on how the longbow was actually used in combat, which differ somewhat from the popular image of the arrow storm, but even if you don’t agree with these, the information on how the longbow was made, the arrows it fired, the numbers that were ordered and so forth are still of great interest. The crossbow emerges as a much more complex weapon than I had realised, with a wide variety of material used to produce the bow itself (including simple wooden bows, composite bows and increasingly powerful steel bows), and an even wider range of methods used to pull back the bow string to the various types of triggers.
The most variety is found in the composite bow, made up of layers of various materials glued together, and almost always produced with a more complex ‘recurved’ shape, with curves facing towards and away from the archer to provide more leverage than the simple curve of the longbow. Some variants of the composite bow were remarkable extreme, taking up most unusual shapes when un-strung (in some cases the curve was so extreme that the tips actually met on the side facing away from the archer, producing a ‘crab’ shape’). The techniques required to construct and maintain these impressive bow are also examined, and are equally impressive.
One of the interesting features of the section on the Yumi is the uncertainly about how many aspects of modern Japanese archery would have been recognised by Samurai of the period when the bow was their main weapon. Many of the more formal aspects appear to have been developed after the Samurai became swordsmen, during the prolonged period of civil wars that ended with the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate. As with so many other aspects of Samurai culture, many of the more elaborate elements appear to date to the later Edo period, after the Samurai had lost their military role
Given the use of much material from the earlier books, I’d say that this book would be of interest if you only have one of the previous volumes, but not if you have two. Bringing the three books together allows for a comparison between the three types (and especially between the longbow and European crossbows, which co-existed and were often used alongside or against each other). Each section is interesting in its own right, and the book is as well illustrated as one might expect. Overall this is a fascinating book looking at one of the most important weapons of the pre-gunpowder world.
1 – The Longbow
2 – The Crossbow
3 – The Composite Bow
4 – The Japanese Yumi
Author: Mike Loades