Subtitle tells all: a brisk, unexceptional history of snipers.
The first recorded British death by sniper was Robert Greville, Lord Brooke, felled during the English Civil War. The sniper took aim from the Lichfield Cathedral, and Brooke never had a chance. Scottish journalist Dougan (Dynamo, 2002, etc.) shows the vital role sharpshooting has played in almost all the major wars of the 20th century, and he suggests that sniper skills have turned a few ordinary men—like Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, who killed at least 93 men in his tour of duty in Vietnam—into legends. Dougan’s treatment of nonmilitary snipers is a bit less satisfying: his rehearsal of the assassination of JFK is just that, a rehearsal of familiar details. And John Muhammad and Lee Malvo’s sniper escapades, Dougan rather banally says, remind “us of our abject fear of the nameless terror that strikes when we are most vulnerable and then vanishes.” Dougan does offer a lot of sharpshooting trivia, which readers may want to store up for cocktail parties (by all lights, George Washington should have been shot by British sharpshooter Patrick Ferguson on the banks of Brandywine Creek, except that Ferguson couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger), and he also examines the sniper as a symbol (in the 1940s, he suggests, snipers played a critical role in Soviet propaganda, heroes who would save the Soviet Union from Hitler’s aggressions). Indeed, some passages here border on propaganda: starry-eyed tales of the stealth and bravery of men like Hathcock—not to mention Dougan’s description of sharpshooting as a “craft”—run the risk of glamorizing what is, ultimately, cold, clinical killing.
Best for armchair military history buffs. Still, if there’s another sniper scare, expect Dougan to reinvent himself as talking-head pundit.