In 1826, Scotsmen David Landale and George Morgan met at dawn with pistols in their hand. One shot the other dead and had to flee. In The Last Duel, James Landale explores the circumstances leading to the duel and the shifting beliefs that affected the unfortunate meeting and its aftermath.
Dueling is one of those customs that fascinates me, so, when I came across the book in the library catalog, I knew I had to read it. Landale does a solid job of developing the cast, the circumstances that brought up the duel, and the context that allowed the duel to happen. Landale frequently diverts to discuss the history of dueling and the shifting definition of honor that allowed duels to happen, yet also brought it to the end. He addresses the factors that led to the shift in the concept of honor as well, which begs the question of why the Landale-Morgan duel actually happened.
Overall, I found the book enjoyable to read. Much of it was already familiar to me, but I found the topic well-researched and enjoyed the diversions. However, I think that the diversions were most effective when they were directly related to the point in the story. There were instances where the diversions were far too long, and, although I found the topic interesting, I wanted to return the actual story-line. Nevertheless, this is an informative book, and it is more of the more accessible books on the topic that I’ve come across. The other would be By the Sword, by Richard Cohen, although the book covers more than just the practice of dueling. If you’re looking for an introduction to dueling history but don’t necessarily want to read straight up academic works, this book is a solid place to start.