The Gun
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The Gun

3.7 34
by C. J. Chivers
     
 

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In a tour de force, prize-winning New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers traces the invention of the assault rifle, following the miniaturization of rapid-fire arms from the American Civil War, through WWI, Vietnam, to present day Afghanistan when Kalashnikovs and their knock-offs number as many as 100 million, one for every seventy persons on earth.

At a

Overview

In a tour de force, prize-winning New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers traces the invention of the assault rifle, following the miniaturization of rapid-fire arms from the American Civil War, through WWI, Vietnam, to present day Afghanistan when Kalashnikovs and their knock-offs number as many as 100 million, one for every seventy persons on earth.

At a secret arms-design contest in Stalin’s Soviet Union, army technicians submitted a stubby rifle with a curved magazine. Dubbed the AK-47, it was selected as the Eastern Bloc’s standard arm. Scoffed at in the Pentagon as crude and unimpressive, it was in fact a breakthrough—a compact automatic that could be mastered by almost anyone, last decades in the field, and would rarely jam. Manufactured by tens of millions in planned economies, it became first an instrument of repression and then the most lethal weapon of the Cold War. Soon it was in the hands of terrorists.

In a searing examination of modern conflict and official folly, C. J. Chivers mixes meticulous historical research, investigative reporting, and battlefield reportage to illuminate the origins of the world’s most abundant firearm and the consequences of its spread. The result, a tour de force of history and storytelling, sweeps through the miniaturization and distribution of automatic firepower, and puts an iconic object in fuller context than ever before.

The Gun dismantles myths as it moves from the naïve optimism of the Industrial Revolution through the treacherous milieu of the Soviet Union to the inside records of the Taliban. Chivers tells of the 19th-century inventor in Indianapolis who designs a Civil War killing machine, insisting that more-efficient slaughter will save lives. A German attaché who observes British machine guns killing Islamic warriors along the Nile advises his government to amass the weapons that would later flatten British ranks in World War I. In communist Hungary, a locksmith acquires an AK-47 to help wrest his country from the Kremlin’s yoke, beginning a journey to the gallows. The Pentagon suppresses the results of firing tests on severed human heads that might have prevented faulty rifles from being rushed to G.I.s in Vietnam. In Africa, a millennial madman arms abducted children and turns them on their neighbors, setting his country ablaze. Neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, The Gun builds to a terrifying sequence, in which a young man who confronts a trio of assassins is shattered by 23 bullets at close range. The man survives to ask questions that Chivers examines with rigor and flair.

Throughout, The Gun animates unforgettable characters—inventors, salesmen, heroes, megalomaniacs, racists, dictators, gunrunners, terrorists, child soldiers, government careerists, and fools. Drawing from years of research, interviews, and from declassified records revealed for the first time, he presents a richly human account of an evolution in the very experience of war.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The AK-47 assault rifle is the defining weapon of the post-WWII era, thanks to its reliability, simplicity, and effectiveness. Over a hundred million units have been manufactured in enough variants-including imitations-to provide one for every 70 people in the world. It is praised in equal measure by soldiers, insurgents, hunters, and police. In his first book Chivers, a Marine Corps vet and senior writer at the New York Times who has reported extensively from Afghanistan and Pakistan, combines recently declassified documents with extensive personal accounts of AK-47 users from around the world. Without denying the familiar contributions of Mikhail Kalashnikov, Chivers describes the AK-47 as a product of the Soviet system. The quest for an individual weapon with the firepower of a light machine gun and the portability of a machine pistol dated from the First World War, but Stalin gave it top priority with the beginning of the Cold War. Chivers vividly depicts the false starts and the eventual success, as when the gun aided in suppressing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and its subsequent global distribution and evolution into "everyman's gun." An extensive comparison with the US M-16 enhances this outstanding history of an exceptional instrument of war.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Chivers's book is an engrossing history of the evolution of machine guns since the mid-19th century, which makes it a history of modern warfare. Using the prevalent AK-47 assault rifle as a significant framing device, he goes back to that gun's predecessors and their inventors, from Richard Gatling to Hiram Maxim, John T. Thompson, and the many personalities—Soviet, British, American, Hungarian, Cuban, African, etc.—involved in the propagation of modern warfare and of the imperialism such warfare has supported. A former marine himself, he concludes with the AK-47 and its variant knockoffs in the hands of marines on their way to Iraq. The result is gripping and original interpretive history, highly recommended.
Kirkus Reviews

An eye-opening, often grim history of automatic weapons, emphasizing the Soviet Union's murderous, wildly successful legacy.

Former Marine officer and New York Times Moscow bureau chief Chivers hardly mentions his subject in the book's first third as he recounts the history of automatic weapons from the American Civil War to World War I with familiar eponyms: Gatling, Maxim, Browning, Mauser. Although heavy and requiring a team to operate, WWI machine guns dominated the battlefield, and a few forward-looking military leaders advocated an automatic weapon suitable for infantry who still used single-shot rifles. World War II saw early models that were too heavy (the American Browning Automatic Rifle) or too short-range (the Thompson submachine gun). In 1947, after several years of development, the AK-47 was chosen as the Soviet Army's infantry weapon. Unlike the complex, accurate and expensive postwar American M16, to whose painful trials Chivers devotes a long section, the AK-47 was not particularly accurate but was simple, cheap and extraordinarily sturdy and reliable. NATO and U.S. allies followed the American lead, but AK-47 models quickly became the preferred rifle for most armed forces, police forces, guerrillas and drug cartels. Some readers may skim sections devoted to innumerable conflicts in which the AK-47 family participated, from the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union to today's wars, insurgencies and criminal enterprises. But it's hard to resist a narrative that ends with a world awash with a weapon that has killed more soldiers and civilians than all the high-tech planes, missiles, bombs, WMDs and America's sophisticated rifles combined.

An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history.

Max Boot
Chivers is a first-rate war correspondent and a prodigious researcher who has tracked down every relevant document (or so it appears). He even interviewed the aging Kalashnikov…The Gun is likely to become the standard account of the world's standard assault rifle.
—The New York Times Book Review
Mark A. Keefe IV
In The Gun, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former Marine officer and Persian Gulf War veteran C.J. Chivers sets out to "lift the Kalashnikov out of the simplistic and manipulated distillations of its history." He succeeds admirably by putting the gun into its social, historical and technological context in an evocative narrative.
—The Washington Post
Patrick Hennessey
[Chivers] writes both with technical precision and the humanity that comes with understanding the invariably unhappy and all too often horrific consequences of the weapon's effects. All this makes for a delicate and at times fascinating balancing act, as Mr. Chivers the enthusiast and expert shares the page with Mr. Chivers the historian and journalist—the expert dealing well with the detailed mechanics of his subject, the journalist at other times brilliantly illuminating the book with highly effective vignettes of human courage, ingenuity and, mostly, suffering.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"Eye-opening.... An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history." —Kirkus

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743270762
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
10/12/2010
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

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From the Publisher
"Eye-opening.... An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history." —-Kirkus

Meet the Author

C.J. Chivers is a senior writer for The New York Times and its former Moscow Bureau Chief. He was an infantry officer in the US Marines from 1988 to 1994 and served in the Gulf War. He is the recipient of numerous prizes including a shared Pulitzer for International Reporting in 2009 for coverage in Afghanistan and citations from the Overseas Press Club. He is currently on leave from the Times.

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The Gun 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
GAN More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It is a well researched history and politics of some major automatic weapons that affected the world. Starting with the Gatling, it goes to the Maxim with some mentions of other famous weapons. It concentrates mostly on the AK 47 and M- 16. No exploded diagrams of weapons here. But you get the history of the people involved in the design and manufacture and use of the weapons and their effect on governments, war and society. He takes you into the design competitions of the AK in Russia and compares that with the US history of the M 16 adaptation. The author is mindful to point out at each evolutionary step of the automatic weapon its effect on war and society. Finally, the author points out what is to be done about the proliferation of weapons. Here he and I part ways. He wants destruction of the excess weapons. But his book amply points out the weapon problem in this world was instigated by governments, exploited by governments and continued by governments. As freemen here in the USA we can never give up our rights to own guns to protect our freedom. Because of the ineptness and evil of governments in the small automatic weapons proliferation, freemen must have the means to defend themselves should these weapons be turned upon us. The author has taken pains to show how these automatic weapons have been turned upon more than just soldiers. Its probably not what he wanted his readers to take away from reading his book, but it is plainly evident from his easy to read and interesting book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some very interesting facts and the historical perspective on the development of automatic weapons was great. However, the book is EXTREMELY redundant that I almost couldn't finish it. It could be about 100 pages shorter. Not a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With a parallel of the development of the M-16, the history of machine guns, propaganda associated with Russia, design considerations, the life and times of Kalishnakov. Fascinating history, and a great view of the inevitability of the assault rifle.
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guitaoist3 More than 1 year ago
awesome history lesson
Muttdad More than 1 year ago
Be forewarned..you will have to wade thru 150 pages detailing Gatling's gun then Hiram Maxim's machine gun. From then on you get a look at the AK, Kalishnikov the man and what the Soviet Union was like in those years. Chivers also details the failures of the M16 in Nam. Robert McNamara should have been crucified for making this choice and Colt firearms for producing a piece of junk that got our soldiers killed in SE Asia. He goes on to detail the impact of the most prolific firearm in the world made by several countries. All in all a good read if you're interested in the AK 47. Four stars instead of five because of the annoying slow start.
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Neva Mills More than 1 year ago
this book gives a plethora of in information on rapid fire weapons
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