Book Review: Martial Bliss.: The Story of The Military Bookman

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by Margaretta Barton Colt

New York: The Military Bookman at Chartwell Booksellers, 2015. Pp. xx, 328. Illus. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1508849447

New York’s Classiest Military Book Shop & the People Who Ranit

Since the advent of the internet, bookselling from a fixed location is becoming as rare as the books themselves. From 1976 to 2003, Harris and Margaretta Colt established and ran a unique institution in New York, The Military Bookman. The shop’s closing left a great void in the field of military bookselling, not only in New York , but globally.

The Colts, both very knowledgeable about military history, worked diligently to acquire rare works. Harris’s knowledge of U.S. military manuals, regulations, and official publications was unsurpassed, and the shop had the feel of a research library rather than a book store. Its stock included British, Canadian, and Australian official histories, and of course many older works, long out of print. There was always some treasure lurking on their shelves, such as the official history of the Austro-Hungarian Army, a truly uncommon item, and they had a huge number of memoirs and biographies.

The Bookman was a quirky place, not only full of books, but also odd bits of military memorabilia, artwork, old recruiting posters, and whatnot. It’s clientele was outstanding, ranging from the buff and amateur student of military history to some of the greatest names in the field, many of whom a browser might spot while perusing some volume, such as the noted British publisher Lionel Leventhal and such historians as John Keegan, Nigel West, and Gunther Rothenberg.

But this book is also about the business of running a bookstore, particularly one in a pricey Upper East Side Manhattan brownstone in an era when the bookselling market was on the verge of change, not for the better, as more and more of the book business moved to chain stores and then to online services. Neither venue could make up for being able to browse shelves of volumes and accidentally come across some rare and unusual work, under the guidance of a friendly and knowledgeable book dealer.

Rising rents and competition from chain and online vendors forced The Military Bookman to close in 2003, though it survives online.

The Military Bookman was a class act, and although now only a fond memory, this memoir is worthwhile reading for any student of military history or bibliophile, and reminds us of the excellent work done by the Colts, who are themselves interesting characters in the book.

Our Reviewer: Independent scholar Dan David is the author of The 1914 Campaign: August-October, 1914 and numerous reviews and articles. Formerly the manager of Sky Books International, in New York, he is a member of the Board of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, and chairman of the NYMAS Book Awards Committee. His most recent reviews for StrategyPage include Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting. Training. and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914, The Indian Army on the Western Front, Gallipoli: Command Under Fire, The Russian Army in the Great War, and Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918

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Reviewer: Dan David   


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