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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.