Ayoob, Massad. The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery (6th edition). Iola: Gun Digest Books, 2007.
BLUF: A solid and helpful book, but I'm unclear as to the audience and there's some fluff.
The stated goal of Combat Handgunnery is to describe how to defend your family, your home, and yourself. In that case, it seems to be aimed squarely at private armed citizens. We'll see how well it measures up to the stated goal.
ORGANZIATION: As is becoming typical, here's a quick overview of the book's contents. There are 15 chapters in a 254 page book. While Massad doesn't split up the book into sections, I think it'd be fair to say that there's about 1/2 the book describes guns, gunleather, and gear; 2/5 is technique, and the small remainder is assorted other goodies.
LAYOUT: As I am coming to expect with Mr. Ayoob's work, the text is conversational and clear. The book, like Gun Digest's Book of Concealed Carry, is well illustrated, mostly with photos of Massad. Particularly helpful are the shots that show action step by step. My only complaint is that as in the other Gun Digest book, Massad is the primary model for everything. I would have liked to see shots of people of varying builds doing the tasks.
CONTENT: Now on to the content itself. There's a lot of good stuff here. On the technique side, Mr. Ayoob gets into the nitty gritty "how to" for everything from the basics of trigger control to Handgun Retention 101. This is good stuff, and there's a lot of it. Where there is controversy, Mas breaks it down and presents the background and arguments both sides and then gives his verdict (which is sometimes, "Both are right, just in different situations"). He dos this over and over, with ammo choices, shooting stances, revolver vs. semiautos, etc. And it works. There's well over a hundred pages of outstanding material in here.
The gear sections were a bit less impressive. The best of them is his discussion of ammunition. He gives both sides of the common argument (lab performance vs. street stopping power) and then a final bottom line choice ("You can't go wrong with the .38 special FBI load"). This is good, because he narrows down a complicated field of contenders to a set of viable choices, quickly. I also enjoyed his discussion of the progression of handgun technology from revolvers to semiautos to the "wondernines." There's are some random golden tips scattered throughout that really make you think, "Gee, that's a good idea!" For example, his suggestion to purchase some police surplus soft body armor just makes sense (When you want a gun, you'll also want armor; you'll want it at the range if you're frequently shooting around strangers; and most usefully, it gives you a safer backstop in the home to use when clearing, cleaning, and dry firing).
However, much of the material on gunleather is redundant with the Book of Concealed Carry; that which is not is specific to police (not armed citizens or military). Many of the gun reviews are available for free online, or are lifted at least in part from some of Mr. Ayoob's magazine articles; for example, the Beretta Px4 Storm writeup is the same as this one from Guns Magazine. I would have preferred a reference to an online supplement that discusses recent trends, or to other books that discuss things in more detail. For example, cut some of the CCW techniques and include more open-police carry gouge; there's a whole book on CCW techniques already!
Now, to the "grabbag" material that doesn't quite fit. On one hand, I particularly enjoyed a chapter entitled "Beyond the stereotypes." This chapter specifically addresses women, minorities and other shooters that don't fit the stereotype of a WASP cop or bubba redneck packing heat. As an individual who is of Middle Eastern descent himself, with two actively shooting daughters, Massood is clearly qualified to write on this important topic. However, I'm not sure how relevant it is to a discussion on combat handgunnery. The women's section briefly talks about some techniques for women but for the most part, this section is "political." Its good, but I don't know that it fits. Likewise with "Avoiding Mistakes." Safety is important but this chapter goes beyond safety and covers things like CCW faux pas and guns storage.
I would have really liked to see space dedicated to a review of training facilities and courses. The techniques Ayoob discusses really need to be learned from an instructor, not from a book. They've given me a lot to think about and will no doubt help my shooting and self-defense skills, but you don't learn weapon retention purely out of a book. I know Mas operates his own course (LFI) and has his own TTPs (Stressfire) but still, an honest review of the "heavy hitters" (NRA courses, Gunsite, Thunder Ranch, Seattle Firearms Academy, etc) or at least contact info for them would have been good. Even just a generic, "What a good training class looks like, what it costs, what you should bring, etc" would have been helpful.
Additionally, this book would have benefited from better organization. Each chapter seems to be written as a standalone; that's ok, as its a reference book and people are liable to jump around. However, it would have been easy to chunk together all the chapters on gear into one section, or to include an index.
I think that Mas should write a book that focuses on philosophical/social/political issues as well as absolute fundamentals. Basically, "Ayoob for Newbies." There would go Shooting 101, Safety, Gear 101, and most importantly, all the politics/social chapters like "Beyond the Stereotypes." That would free up space in "how to" manuals like this for more TTPs. Because fundamentally, that's what this book is: a how-to book that's meant to be referenced as needed. The social/political/philosophical stuff will only be read once, and never be needed again. That's a shame for what is otherwise a useful book.
So, time for the bottom line. This is a helpful book, despite the sections that will not be read more than once. If you're serious about shooting, it is a handy reference. However, some parts are more useful than others. Also, Mas jumps back and forth between writing for a cop and writing for a citizen, and doesn't even address military issues. I think this would be good to read before you take a class (to "prime the pump") or to review after you take a class (to refresh), but is not a substitute for actual hands on training. Like the book on Concealed Carry -- is it worth $25 MSRP? Ehh, not sure. But for $10-15, its a good buy.
Overall Rating: 3.5. A quality reference but saddled with marginal organization, some fluff, and jumps in target audience.
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