It is the world's most widely recognized weapon, the most profuse tool for killing ever made. More than 50 national armies carry the automatic Kalashnikov, as do an array of police, intelligence, and security agencies all over the world. In this tour de force, prizewinning 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 World War I and Vietnam, to present-day Afghanistan, when Kalashnikovs and their knockoffs number as many as 100 million, one for every 70 persons on earth.
It is the weapon of state repression, as well as revolution, civil war, genocide, drug wars, and religious wars; and it is the arms of terrorists, guerrillas, boy soldiers, and thugs. It was the weapon used to crush the uprising in Hungary in 1956. American Marines discovered in Vietnam that the weapon in the hands of the enemy was superior to their M16s. Fidel Castro amassed them. Yasir Arafat procured them for the P.L.O. A Kalashnikov was used to assassinate Anwar Sadat. As Osama bin Laden told the world that "the winds of faith and change have blown," a Kalashnikov was by his side. Pulled from a hole, Saddam Hussein had two Kalashnikovs.
It is the world's most widely recognized weapon - cheap, easy to conceal, durable, deadly. But where did it come from? And what does it mean? Chivers, using a host of exclusive sources and declassified documents in the east and west, as well as interviews with and the personal accounts of insurgents, terrorists, child soldiers, and conventional grunts, reconstructs through the Kalashnikov the evolution of modern war. Along the way, he documents the experience and folly of war and challenges both the enduring Soviet propaganda surrounding the AK-47 and many of its myths.
©2010 C.J. Chivers (P)2010 Tantor
"Eye-opening.... An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history." (Kirkus)
This book is a compelling review of how man's technology for killing each other has shaped history over the last 140 years, and how entrenched thinking has been far more deadly than the weapons of war. As a hardcore firearms enthusiast, I hoped the book would be a history of the most influential gun of all time, the AK-47 family of shoulder-fired military arms. What I found was much, much more, including a commentary on how the development and deployment of the weapons of war reflect the best and worst of human nature and our institutions of government. Has there ever been anything so deadly as short-term thinking, greed, and manipulative self-interest? Not according to this book, which weaves history, biography, political commentary, and philosophy into a single retrospective on political history over the last 140 years. Always thought-provoking and even-handed, the author neither glorifies nor villifies the guns in question. Rather, he examines the development, use and deployment of guns as the tangible extension of political and economic influences that shape the course of history.
This book was certainly not what I expected. It was much, much more. I was unable to put it down. Having come of age in the Viet Nam era, I was horrified to learn of how the badly-flawed M-16 was developed, marketed, foisted upon the US military by Robert McNamara and his chronies, even though it was wholy unsuited to the work at hand. It was chilling to read how many lives were lost because our troops had been equipped with guns that would jam and fail with terrifying predictability. I was outraged to read of the political cover-up that blamed the problems with the guns on the troops in the field, whose lives depended on them.
While the legend of the AK 47 is shown to be at least as much PR as history, it nonetheless showed that the smug, self-congratulatory attitude of superiority we cultivate in the West, is not so well-deserved. A great read; highly recommended!
I have bought about ten books from Audibile, all dealing with history, and this may be my favorite.
On the surface, The Gun appears to be a book about the AK-47. But it's really the story of the evolution of military weapons and strategies, advances in technology from the 19th to the 20th century, and the history of this time period...through the sights of various arms designers and governments that shaped the world stage.
I like Chivers thesis that the AK-47 may have been more important in the long-run than the Soviets developing nuclear weapons.
The narration by Prichard is spot on.
If you are a fan of reading about history or current events, or...say, the film "Lord of War"...buy this audiobook right away.
I am very grateful to CJ Chivers for recently removing himself from the blind hazard of war. Although almost no one is better equipped to deal with hazard, he has seen fit to return from "the ranks of death" to focus his prodigious skills on we know not what. This is a rare talent which has been gifted us. I wonder what this surprising man will have in store for us. Whatever it is, I an certain that, like "The Gun", it will be a great deal more than the sum of its parts.
The material is awesome but the length and the dryness of the narration had my mind wandering around a bit. Still a decent read and great history of the guns that helped shape the modern world.
Laura the Listener
I couldn't stop listening to this book. The Gun is about the AK-47 but it covers much more, starting with the first machine guns and how they were used and/or misused by the world's armies when first introduced on the battlefield. All this leads up to the development and deployment of the AK-47. Of particular interest is the section on the Vietnam war, how the North Vietnamese with the AK-47 outgunned the US with their new M16 and the politics that followed. An absolutely fascinating history, I plan to listen to this again in the near future.
Other reviewers have summerized the book well. Although I have some military experience with the Soviet Union and the present countries of Russia, the Stans, etc., the book gave me better insight into the culture of the USSR and the cultural traits which carry forward to today. My only grump is with Mr. Prichards attempt at a Russian accent during his readings. He sounds like a Scottish low-lander when he reads from the quotes.
The title of this book should be pluralized. It is really a textbook on the development of automatic weapons in general rather than a history of the AK 47/74. Only about 1/3 of the book is specifically about the AK 47. Very interesting but strays a little far afield at times. The narrator, Michael Prichard takes some getting used to, but is ok. That said, The Gun is interesting and worth the time investment.
Downloaded this after reading a rave review in a news magazine. While some parts are interesting, including the history and rivalries in the development of machine guns, I found the narrative a bit scattershot (no pun intended) and not all that captivating. Will probably only appeal to those with a real interest in firearms.
The story and the narrator.
Overall, the book is excellent. I waited until after reading (listening to) the book to read about the author as not try to project my ideas about his background onto his words, and take them for face value. The book covers some major milestones in the history of firearms, leading up to the beginning of the automatic rifle changing the way battles were fought and the struggles that world armed forces faced in initial design, implementation, and production of the weapons as well as how tactics changed before and after it's widespread use. Throughout the book the author comes back and forth to the AK, often used as juxtaposition for the topic of the chapter at hand. The AK is definitely the main topic of the book, and the middle and much of the end deal with the Soviet Union's history and policy on weapons, a brief biography of Kalashnikov, the initial design and production of the weapon, and how it was distributed or authorized for manufacture (or not) by other comblock countries. It makes mention of all of the well known factories like Tula, Izshmash, Radom, Circle 10 and others.
One section I found incredibly interesting was a brief section on how the US dropped the ball in it's failure to keep up with the rest of the world in weapons design and why they made the choices they did leading up to the mid 20th century. It also deals with the initial development, testing, and backroom deals which led to the military's adoption of what would be the M-16, and the disaster that followed its debut in Vietnam. The testing section blew me away with some of the questionable and outright horrific details of the US military's "testing" of the AR-15, and I honestly can't help but hate the thing more now than I did prior to reading the book.
After finishing the book I felt the author was very knowledgeable and well versed in military tactics and policies, but felt by some of his passages that he was somewhat "anti-gun" in respect to private ownership, though in fair he explicitly says in the preface that the book would not take on the subject of the AK or semi or fully auto weapons and their place in US citizens' hands. He does however lament on what it seems he feels is an overall negative contribution the AK has made on the globe. He also seems to paint Kalashnikov himself in a very negative light, and portrays him as both a victim of the soviet union's ruthless policies, and a pathetic manufactured personality cult by the same people who sought to destroy his family. He does this all while making serious implications about the actual contributions General Kalashnikov made in his namesake firearm.
All in all, it's a great read (or listen), and actually has had me doing a little more digging and reading on various subjects of which my interest was triggered during and after reading. Recommended for AK guys who also like reading about history and politics both.
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