The Rifle

ISBN: 0152058397
ISBN 13: 9780152058395
By: Gary Paulsen

Check Price Now


Currently Reading Favorites Fiction Gary Paulsen Historical Historical Fiction Realistic Fiction To Read Ya Fiction Young Adult

About this book

A treasured rifle passed down through generations is the cause of a tragic accident in this timely tale. With subtle mastery and precision, this tough, thought-provoking novel challenges the idea that firearms don't become instruments of destruction and murder until they are placed in human hands.     Each book includes a reader's guide.

Reader's Thoughts




The rifle, is not one of my favorite books I thought it would be better but I was wrong. I like Gary paulsen , but this is not won of his good books. I would not really recommend this book. But a good age group is 13-30. so if you read hope you like it.

Nathaniel Gage

I've read this book probably about five, maybe six times over the years, and I've browsed it more times than I can count. I first read it when I was in middle-school, and recently I was gifted it by a friend, whereupon I read it twice more in the span of a few days. This book has a long history for me, and over the years it has come to mean much more.I won't bother with a summary, because it seems as if every other review of this book has at least a paragraph dedicated to summarizing it. In short: the novel is about a rifle and a boy, and it's still just as heart-wrenchingly beautiful and sad as the first time I read it.One of the gripes many people have with this book is that it's short and it's fast. The pages are small and the text is large, but somehow that only adds to the experience of reading it. Unlike so many books nowadays it's easy to get into and easy to finish, and a lot of people mistake this to mean that The Rifle is a simple book, meant for children. I would (and do!) argue vigorously against this. It might be small, but I haven't read a work of Paulsen's that doesn't deal with themes adults need to address as much as children. If you're reading in broad strokes, then the novel is about gun safety, the value of history and well-honed craft, and the brief, sharp tragedy of chance. But the beauty of the book is in the details. It's short and compact but there is some kind of well-built strength in every sentence, every paragraph. It's as if Paulsen took the same care in assembling this book that Cornish McManaus, the gunsmith who built The Rifle, did in assembling his masterpiece. His visual detail, though spare, is all well-applied; he's a master of letting the reader fill in the gaps, although this assumes that the reader is of a certain background and will have those experiences to draw on. He builds characters in mere paragraphs, fleshes them out in a couple of pages. And he is capable of making you care about those characters, if you let yourself. Yes, there are stereotypes, but I'm willing to let them pass without comment—some stereotypes do have a basis in reality. And though the true beauty of this book is that it is all equally beautiful, my personal favorite section has to be The Boy.Nowhere have I grown to grow to care about characters so quickly. The boy is never even named, never described beyond a sketch, and grows up through a period of fewer than fifteen pages from the age of one month to adolescence—but I know him, I feel for him, and (though I won't spoil the book by saying what happens) I was brought low by the ending. Paulsen does such an amazing job guiding the reader through the boy's interests, his struggles, his friends—his pets—that in only those few pages I came to care more than I have for many characters in other, much longer novels.Much of my appreciation for this book is newly-found, I'll admit. It's only now that I've done some growing up that I can really see everything that Paulsen was getting at, and when I was the same age as this boy I wasn't as inclined to think of his character as memorable or even significant. But now that I'm older and I can look back with some time between me and him, I can see just how masterful Paulsen was in writing the way he did, and I can't say this strongly enough: read this book. You may regret it, you may not like it, or it may just not be for you—but if it is, and if you like it, then it just might become as significant for you as it was for me.


FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET...This is a difficult book to categorize, since it is both Historical Fiction (American 18th century) and a warning re the danger of casually-kept firearms. Regardless of its genre placement, this is one powerful read! Chapterless but divided into four sections of differing lengths, this book is the "biograpy" of one particular rifle, handcrafted with pride and precision in Colonial New England. The impact of this 1768 "sweet" rifle continues centuries after the Revolutionary marksmen's death. It survives because it was hidden away and forgotten for several generations, but its power (not Will)to kill merely lies dormant. Gradually the reader comes to realize that a bizarre combination of random factors will culminate in some modern disaster. We are haunted by a sense of impending doom, despite the absence of malicious intent. This is a classic of coincidence, where History meets the Present, when the timeline of a rifle intersects a human life--shattering many lives and attitudes. A fabulous and compelling book that will grip the reader and challenge hostile defenders or firearms. NB: (I raealize that Guns do not kill--only People do, so it is up to all gun owners to store their treasured possessions responibly.) (April 28 2010. I welcome dialogue with teachers.)


"The Rifle" is a book about a hand-built, sweet rifle made by McManus and sold to a man named Bynam. Bynam was an excellent marksman and joined the Continental Army with the rifle. The gun was unbelievably accurate and Bynam took out multiple redcoats at 300 yards. This was unheard of at the time. Later, he died from dysentery after drinking the water. The people who took care of him before he died took the gun and put it in the attic. It remained there for 300 years until a young boy found it. When the young boy brought it down from the attic, his mother said she didn't want guns in the house, so he was forced to sell it. A gun enthusiast named Tim Harrow purchased the gun because he was aware of its value. After purchasing the gun, his car broke down right in front of a gas station. He found out his radiator had a crack in it and he needed a new one that would cost $400. Harv, the gas station owner, offered to fix it in trade for the rifle and a picture of Elvis. The deal was made and Harv displayed the rifle on his mantle. The next winter, Harv started a fire in the fireplace and a spark ignited the 300 year old gunpowder, shooting his neighbor. That's where the book ended. I did not like the ending very much. The book was too confusing and hard to follow due to the constant changing of characters. I would recommend this book to people who like fiction and young adults.


A short, but ever so timely book on guns. This story follows a rifle--lovingly and meticulously hand-crafted at the time of the Revolutionary War, as it passes on through generations and centuries. The endng is tragic and powerful. There is a lot in here up for discussion and would be a great addition to any current-events discussion of gun control. On an historical note, the first twenty pages or so go into great detail of the making and workings of a black-powder rifled musket. I did not realize that rifles were being made in the 18th century, I thought there were only smoothbore muskets. I thought rifling was one of the great technological advances that occurred during the Civil War. Rifling was taking place in 1775, but it was the invention of the minie ball in the mid 1800s that brought greater accuracy and distance. Astounding comparing the black powder firing process to an AK-47 assault rifle.

Nate Thompson

Alternative title: How I Lost My Respect for Gary Paulsen.Gary Paulsen uses his usual gift of prose in this short novel, but the book is more a political rant than a novel. In fact, given the sheer ridiculousness of the book's central premise, it's hard to see it as anything close to a well-crafted story.After painting a beautiful introduction to an amazing rifle, a several-page rant that stereotypes gun owners, Paulsen concludes with an ending so ridiculously impossible that my wife had to pry my jaw off the floor.**Spoiler Alert**According to Paulsen, the rifle was left loaded for over 200 years, spending much of the time in a humid attic. Somehow, he postulates, the bear fat managed to keep the black powder charge in the barrel perfectly preserved. Also, in 200 years, no one checks to see if it is loaded... Best of all, after years of such perfect preservation, a single spark from a fireplace manages to get into the barrel and ignite the charge. When the gun fires, it goes through two windows and, with a perfect shot, kills the kid who would have cured cancer. Following the ending is a reader chat page: "Do you still think guns don't kill people?"Really? For those unfamiliar with black powder, leaving a charge in for a single year leads to incredible amounts of rust. Humidity will destroy a charge. Oh, and bear fat still works as a water barrier after 200 years? Wow.Icing on the cake: the cover shows a left-handed rifle from a time when there were practically no left-handed rifles... Disappointment.

Jo Gallagher

Both my copies turned up missing from the classroom library! Yea!!! Reluctant male readers at the high-school level grabbed this and it went like fire throughout the classroom. I know I struggle to find reads for some students who no longer care to read. This book was a winner. Amazing text to get students to see reading as thinking. Great read aloud to discuss complex issues.

Rebecca Radnor

I was expecting a historical novel, what I got was a LONG first section talking about how the gun was made in excruciating detail, followed by BAD poorly research history where the author hop skips over the interesting part (the guns part in the revolutionary war) in about 4 pages, and than fast forwards to the modern period to 'teach a lesson' about how guns are bad and they kill people.

Blake Bailey

I think that The Rifle is a great read that is short but full of action. It keeps you guessing until the end! The only thing that made me pick four stars was that in the middle of the book it doesn't make sense for a while but it will clear up. The Rifle is a great attention graber and will keep you turning the pages! But once you get to about the middle of the book start reading it slower so it will make sense and you can enjoy this book to the fullest.


Gun connoisseurs and Gary Paulsen fans, take notice! "The Rifle" is a book to fall in love with for a variety of reasons. While I know nothing about guns, I still found this book riveting and thought provoking. I love Paulsen's attention to detail and honesty in this novel.Plot Summary:"The Rifle" by Gary Paulsen examines the "power" of guns and tackles the old adage, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." This story follows one rifle's journey over 200 years, from its creation to its present day home. It highlights the effect the gun has on each of it's owners and the unique path it carves out in history as it passed from one person to the next. Character Descriptions:Cornish McManus: Cornish is the innovative gun maker that designed and built The Rifle. He spent years perfecting the "sweet" gun and was incredibly proud of his work. The only thing he loved more than the gun was the woman he married. So much so, that he traded the gun for money to be able to have the wedding.John Byam: John, a nomad of sorts and avid hunter, traded Cornish a whole season of buckskins for the rifle. After learning of it's perfect shot, John became a legend (because of the rifle) in the Revolutionary War but later died of Dysentery.Tim Harrow: Tim, an NRA member, gun enthusiast, Big Government opponent, and flourishing alcoholic, purchased the rifle for himself in 1993. Thinking he knew, but not REALLY knowing the true history of the rifle, Tim eventually traded the gun to have a water pump on his mobile home fixed.Harvey Kline: Harvey, the owner of the mechanic shop, acquired the gun in a trade with Tim Harrow. He proudly displayed it above his fireplace for years until "the accident". Richard Mesington: Richard is a young boy and one of Harvey Kline's neighbors. He is coming of age and experiencing many firsts, such as, girlfriends, sports, etc... He and Harvey are friends until one fateful night involving the rifle.Key Issues:rifle, gun, Revolutionary War, gun control, NRA, gunsmith, flint, rifling, "sweet" rifles, stock barrel, alcoholic, Dysentery

Luke Radtke

In this book the creation of the Rifle and its path through the war and how special it was. Some how it made it through the hands of many people, and still is around to tell its story. The life of a boy and the moment when the boy and the gun are joined and what happend to the rifle after the war. The suspense is killing the gun smith, from the making of this sweet rifle. Gunsmith Cornish McManus's rifle shoots farther and truer than any firearm ever made. The rifle's next owner, woodsman John Byam depends on the gun for his livelihood and his skill picking off British officers during the Revolution becomes very well known. Then his death the rifle falls into the hands of a woman who hides it in her attic, where it doesn't get found for more than two centuries. Over all this was a good book. I would recommend it to anyone into history or ages 12-65.


Genre: Junior, Historical FictionSummary:In tracing the creation and travels of a unique and exquisitely crafted rifle, the story incorporates elements of history that are poignant and momentous in the development of the American nation. The craftsmanship and care with which the rifle is imbued play an integral role in its eventual impact and begin the story with an intimate look at the components and concern that can go into its makeup.After the rifle leaves the possession of the original creator, it follows a path of use and disuse, each of which plays an important role. The rifle follows a course that is like that of destiny, bringing triumph and tragedy in equal parts. Although it is just a weapon and subject to the decisions of its owner, the story gives the rifle a uniqueness that makes it transcend a simple tool.Critique:Although a story about a weapon could be gratuitously violent, this book takes with great seriousness the consequences of use and misuse. As the rifle is used to defend and ensure survival it is equally destructive. Set in the backdrop of changing history, its purpose changes as well, reflecting the times and the priorities of those who live in them. Positives/Negatives:The author is careful to reflect current opinion, authentic to the time period and the function a rifle would have served. In doing so, the reader can picture it in the hands of each owner, and see how it is either cared for or neglected, as the story details the consequences of each choice. The path of the rifle is unexpected and well designed to allow the reader to follow its travels and learn from the context in which it is set.Examples:The pivotal events that become crossroads for the rifle depend heavily on the knowledge and experience of the owner. “But the rifle continued. One of the men who helped him to the dugout came back when he heard Byam was dead and asked after the rifle. A middle-aged lady named Sarah told him it was gone but she lied. She knew something of rifles. Her husband – before his death some years earlier – had run the woods like Byam, and she had heard of Byam’s rifle and what he had done.”The final owner makes a critical decision, either through ignorance or complacency that results in a life changing event. “…not once in the life of the rifle, did anybody ever think to check to see if it was loaded… The method is not widely known to people who have no experience with muzzle-loading weapons and so often it is not known if they are loaded or not.”Curriculum Connection:The historical time period in which the creation of the rifle is set offers multiple opportunities to explore the timeline of historical events, look at the artifacts of that time and how they would have been used for survival and protection, and expand the readers' understanding of the larger context.Using this book as a model for a writing topic, students can pick a particular item that is created by a human being and write about its origin and the path it takes from a time in the past to the present. They can construct a graphic organizer to collect and organize information about the time periods that transpired between the item's creation and the current one. Given the controversial nature of a weapon and the various opinions that exist on the use and regulation of guns, this book can be a starting point for a conversation. Each side of the argument can be presented and students can share their own feelings, as the teacher can provide a safe space to express opinions that may not be shared by all.

Cathy Cole

First Line: It is necessary to know this rifle.This short little book traces the history of one flintlock rifle from its creation during the American Revolution to the 1990s.The rifle's creation is a months-long labor of love by a journeyman gunsmith named Cornish McManus. When completed, it is most definitely a "sweet rifle" (meaning one of stunning beauty and accuracy). In desperate need of money, Cornish reluctantly sells the gun to John Byam, a sharpshooter in the Revolutionary War who dies of dysentery.The rifle, intended as a gift to a son killed in battle, is tucked away and forgotten as the centuries pass. In the 1990s it is found, and changes hands a few times until it rests above the mantel of a home in Missouri. Tragedy will ensue because-- during all this time and through all the hands it's passed-- no one has ever checked to see if the rifle is loaded.The first part of this book is wonderful. The craftsmanship that goes into the making of this rifle is phenomenal, and Paulsen brings the entire process to life. The rifle's "life" while in the hands of sharpshooter John Byam is also vivid and well done.But the book falls apart in the end. It's obvious that the author wants to teach children how deadly serious guns are, that no matter how beautiful they are or how innocently they are kept, guns are made to kill-- and they will kill. But it strains credulity to the breaking point to believe that a gun loaded in the 1770s will still fire first-time true in 1993.Paulsen does not believe that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," but the tragedy that occurs at the end of the book is due entirely to humans who don't care about simple gun safety. The ending of the book, in particular, bothered me: "And in the meantime the rifle sits in the gun cabinet. Waiting." Guns are not inhabited by evil spirits who lurk patiently until the unwary come within range. (Although all too often they are owned by people who have no business having them in their possession.)Middle school children may well take Paulsen's message to heart, and I hope they do, but for most of the adults who read along with their children, the aim of his story is going to fall short.


I liked the story but the message was trying to counter the argument that guns don't kill people, people kill people by relating a series of events that happened because of the negligence of people. It would be comparable to saying that cars kill people by cited a case where somebody was killed by a car that was parked on a hill, with no e-brake on, tires pointing straight, and it got bumped and started rolling down the hill when no one was in it.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *