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.
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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.
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.
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
[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 journalistthe 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
“… one of the finest war correspondents of his generation…" —The Wilson Quarterly
"...bold history... ...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
"...magisterial..." —The Atlantic
"...succeeds admirably by putting the gun into its social, historical and technological context in an evocative narrative." —The Washington Post
"...a compelling perspective on 20th-century warfare..." —Slate.com
"...for disciplined and devoted scholars of the history of modern war, politics, and ideology, and how the automatic weapon has forced the transformation of the essence of combat... ...a colossal effort... ...appears to have created a history-laced masterpiece." —Marine Corps Gazette