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The Gun Military Weapons & Warfare Conventional C. J. Chivers Simon & Schuster Reprint edition

7th December 2012 History Books 43 Comments

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. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

This superior history of the AK family of assault rifles begins with the invention of the machine gun by Hiram Maxim and traces automatic weapons through WWII. In 1947, Russian army officer Mikhail Kalashnikov adapted a German design of automatic infantry rifle to become the AK (for Avtomat Kalashnikov). It first attracted world attention in Vietnam by proving superior to the American M-16. Since then it has developed several relatives and been produced in many other countries, the total running into the hundreds of millions. It has armed regular armies, irregular armies, police forces, terrorists, common criminals, and ordinary householders in the majority of the worlds countries, creating a proliferation problem that has to date killed far more people than the nuclear kind. The author is a former U.S. Marine officer and prizewinning journalist who has written incisively and researched exhaustively. It lends force to his arguments that some of his informants have been assassinated with assault rifles for talking. –Roland Green –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

At a secret arms-design contest in Stalins Soviet Union, army technicians submitted a stubby rifle with a curved magazine. Dubbed the AK-47, it was selected as the Eastern Blocs standard arm. Scoffed at in the Pentagon as crude and unimpressive, it was in fact a breakthrougha 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 worlds 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 nave 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 attach 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 Kremlins 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 charactersinventors, 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.

The Gun

The AK-47 and AK74 Kalashnikov Rifles and Their Variations

Joe Poyer is the author of more than 400 magazine articles on firearms, the modern military, military history and personal security. He has written thirteen books on antique and modern collectible military firearms plus twelve novels with worldwide sales exceeding 5 million copies. He has also written or co-written nine nonfiction books on the modern military.

The AK-47 and AK-74 Kalashnikov Rifles and Their Variations provides a detailed, profusely illustrated examination on a part-by-part basis of the famed AK-47/AKM rifles, the AK-74/AK-74M series and the new Century series of rifles, the AK-101 through AK-108. It is another in North Cape Publications, Inc., Shooter’s and Collector’s Guide series In addition, every AK/AKM-type rifle manufactured in the Warsaw Pact countries plus the People’s Republic of China, Finland, Iraq, North Korea and Yugoslavia are described in detail, with a short history on the reason for, and the process of their development and use. This new, 2nd edition, revised and expanded includes new information regarding the scope and use the Kalashnikov series of rifles plus information gleaned from the use of the AK-47 in Iraq by insurgents. Mikhail Kalashnikov is one of the foremost small arms designer’s in the world. His Kalashnikov action has been widely imitated. This book also includes detailed descriptions of rifles based on his design such as the Belgian FNC, the Israeli Galil, the Indonesian SS1 series, the Indian INAS, the Swedish Ak-5, the Swiss SG-550 series, Singapore’s SAR series and many others. The book also includes separate chapters that describe the accessaries issued to each soldier, the entire range of Kalashnikov bayonets, telescopic sights (both military and commercial, the sniper rifle variants and their telescopic sights produced by the old Soviet Union as well as other nations. An exploded view, serial numbers and markings, an assembly/disassembly guide with photos, instructions on cleaning, maintenance and repair, and shooting the Kalashnikov rifles and a guide to legislation affecting these rifles and finally, sources for accessories and parts complete the book.

The AK-47 and AK74 Kalashnikov Rifles and Their Variations

  • 43 responses to "The Gun Military Weapons & Warfare Conventional C. J. Chivers Simon & Schuster Reprint edition"

  • American
    4:16 on December 7th, 2012
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    Chivers’ book, The Gun, is a masterpiece on many levels. Using the history of this weapon as a lens through which to analyze recent history is brilliant. The battle scenes are riveting and heartwrenching, and the characters are rendered with charisma.
    The politics are head spinning, chiefly because most of us don’t look at the world this way and I think we don’t appreciate how much battle tactics reflect times, politics and ideologies. It’s an important book with extraordinary analysis, but full of swashbuckling tales.

  • Julier
    5:22 on December 7th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I own a AK74 and found this book to be extremely well written and informative. It contains tons of information from the origin of the AK, to alternate styles done by different countries. It also contains great step-by-step tutorials (with pictures) for breaking down and cleaning AK style weapons.

    Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in this kind of material.

  • bdworldnews
    6:05 on December 7th, 2012
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    Great review of the ‘underbelly” of small arms R&D in Russia and the US. Provides an understanding of how doctrinal and philosophical differences and even manpower influence mechanical design and manufacturing trade-offs. This book is about much more than the AK-47, it provides a critique of entire societies around the world using the AK as a frame.

  • Bob The Horse
    6:59 on December 7th, 2012
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    I bought the book after hearing the author being interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air “. He was fascinating. The book is very well written. Unfortunately it contains no photographs or diagrams of the various inventors or guns mentioned. I find this diminished my enjoyment in reading.

  • Elke Marple
    7:42 on December 7th, 2012
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    The AK-47 and its numerous variants and successors are ubiquitous instruments of destruction currently appearing in all troubled regions of the globe. The rifle, known for its quadruple attributes of extreme design simplicity, rugged durability, ease of use and tremendous destructive capacity has achieved legendary status. Of course, this is all well known and has been thoroughly discussed and written about. After all, the AK series are instantly recognizable to military, police, criminals, terrorists and the general public as the seminal firearms of the 20th Century.

    C.J. Chivers of “The New York Times” and late of the USMC has, in “The Gun” provided, through the history of the AK series, a lucid exposition of the development of automatic weapons from their inception to the present time. Additionally and more importantly, “The Gun” explores a hitherto largely uninvestigated dimension of the modern assault weapon. He asks, “What is its role as a socio-political instrument of state and how did it achieve this goal?”

    As might be expected, the originator of the eponymous weapon, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has become a mythical figure. It well-served the propaganda purposes of the Soviet Union to extol the virtues of a genuine, nearly unlettered proletarian who, enjoying the Benefits of the Worker’s Paradise, arose from a humble and unassuming background to the pinnacle of firearms design. By legend, he proceeded virtually unaided and motivated primarily by Love of the Fatherland.

    Hagiography aside, Kalashnikov (and the state-supported teams of machinists, engineers, industrialists, ballistics experts and legions of others) served a realpolitik purpose: they built a foundational weapon in accord with pragmatic considerations of state defense and did so expediently, logically, methodically and cheaply. The AK is a model of the axiom, “Form follows function.” Its presence over 60 years after its inception is a testament to that, just as the Colt M1911, Browning Hi-Power, Bren, MG42 and their successors enjoy similar prominence in their own niches.

    Chivers traces the history of the Gatling and Maxim guns; the prototype of the assault rifle, the German machinenpistole 43/sturmgewehr 44; the role of ammunition in the genesis of the military rifle, beginning again with WW-II German advances in the form of the 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge, evolving to the M1943 Soviet round that powered the AK; the introduction and dissemination of AK rifles according to Soviet policy and, of course, the introduction of the ArmaLite AR-15 rifle, soon to become the standard US arm in the form of the M-16 series. In doing so, he acknowledges the role of the PPSh-41 submachine gun (a Soviet WW-II era arm featuring metal stamping, chromed barrel lining and a blowback action) but, in my estimation, underplays its contribution. Like the AK, this weapon was extremely simple, very robust, easily manufactured (millions were made in factories and small Russian machine shops during the war) and murderously effective at usual combat ranges. Also like the AK, it turned up in many subsequent conflicts, ranging from Korea to Vietnam. A curious omission from the history was the fallschirmjagergewehr-42(FG42)which also featured a gas-operated mechanism, a plastic stock (initially), a 20 round magazine and a selector for semiautomatic and full automatic fire. In other words, the FG42 was also a legitimate precursor to the modern assault rifle. Of course, the Thompson M1921, the “Chicago Piano”, makes its necessary appearance. Despite its minor role in the civilian arena, the fearsome performance of this weapon in gangster-era criminal activities gave it a larger-than-life role in the American conscience and lead to laws banning the private ownership of automatic weapons in the US, laws which Chivers notes were not generally implemented outside Western Europe and North America…with devastating consequences.

    As Chivers notes, no history of the AK series would be complete without a recounting of the follies and foibles surrounding its US counterpart, the M16. Initially, the US military assumed a dismissive attitude toward the concept of the assault rifle, despite emerging evidence of its deadly utility. Rather than simply stealing the design and reverse-engineering an American version of an obviously successful weapon, ideological blinkers initially prevented development of a comparable US combat arm. The M14 (successor to the M1 Garand) was heavy and cumbersome. It fired a round that was ill-suited to modern combat. By the time an alliance of arms manufacturers and unscrupulous agents convinced influential elements of the American military hierarchy of the need to purchase an American version of the assault rifle (which just happened to be on hand in the form of the Colt’s AR-15), the AK was routinely arming the current adversary: the Viet Cong. The AR was rushed into action, despite known problems with the ammunition propellant and the propensity of the weapon to jam in use. Soon, it was discovered that the weapon was prone to rust and the gas-operated bolt assembly to fouling. No matter: a cover-up was in order and, despite losses to American personnel from misfiring in combat, perpetuated. While the modern version (the M4 carbine) is better, it is still suboptimal in comparison to its Russian counterpart in the author’s estimation and as noted in a separate chapter at the book’s end.

    Arms sales and transfers have become a standard form of political influence. The USSR, as a centrally-controlled, “non-market” economy, manufactured, stockpiled, licensed and exported AK weapons to satellite nations and client states. With the collapse of the system, enormous weapons and ammunition stocks became available. Private arms dealers, corrupt government officials and simple thievery resulted in the appearance of AK variants in every “hot zone” on the planet. Chivers acerbically notes that, at present, the largest purchaser of AK weapons is…the US. We send them to regimes we are hoping to influence and whose loyalties we wish to secure worldwide and to proxies. Not surprisingly, other nations do that as well. So, Chivers reports that, with a humble small arm, the AK, weapons systems producers (US, Russia, France, China, Israel and others) have become major arms merchants, themselves; this is the socio-political connection which was not begun by, but seems to have been cemented into convention, by the AK-47. Chivers does well to remind the reader of the modern engine of this phenomenon.

    The book concludes with some horrible vignettes dealing with the effects of assault weaponry in the Third World: the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, the attack on an official in the Kurdish region of Iraq being two of them. Chivers readily acknowledges that “small wars” will be with us forever, AK or no AK. Its just that the tremendous destructive potential of the modern assault rifle magnifies the carnage. Despite the experiences of child soldiers; despite the combat experiences of literally millions of veterans worldwide; despite the adoption of RPGs and AK type weaponry by terrorists, wars will persist for all the reasons they always have. Perhaps, aside from the pragmatic and ideological attractions of armed conflict, there is another and more elemental aspect of combat. It was Homer in “The Odyssey” who wrote, “Iron has powers to draw a man to ruin”; true then and true now.

  • Grammar Patrol
    9:34 on December 7th, 2012
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    I will preface my comments on the book itself by stating that I received it as a Christmas present; it was not a book I would have bought for myself.

    The Gun is a book that is very well researched, and quite readable and workmanlike, but it’s as if the author changed direction at several points and never bothered to integrate these into an overall thesis. Insofar as the book has an overall theme, it’s another version of “unintended consequences.” The Gun begins with Richard Gatling, who believed he was inventing a weapon that would eliminate war (although Chivers makes it clear he’s suspicious of Gatling’s motives), and ends with Mikhail Kalashnikov, a narrow idealist who believed his invention would be confined to Great Patriotic Wars defending socialism (and here, too, Chivers believes Kalashnikov is at the very least chronically disingenuous).

    That unintended consequences is Chivers’ intended thesis is made quite clear in his use of a quote from Gatling: “Inventors seldom benefit themselves. They benefit the people.” This, of course, only holds if one construes “benefit” in the broader sense of “effect.” Thus, the Kalashnikov has become the “people’s weapon,” duly portrayed by Chivers as a chief cause, or at least sine qua non, of much of the typical mayhem of irregular, civil, or “proxy” war of the last 65 years.

    Structurally, the book is puzzling. It follows the development of automatic weapons through the latter 19th century in a conventional exposition. Gatling, Maxim, and the lesser lights of the automatic weapons field, right through the trenches of World War I. Then, rather than treating World War II in serial fashion, Chivers makes another of his jumps to the long, murky path of the Kalashnikov within the Soviet bureaucracy, which he makes clear will probably never be fully understood. World War II only enters in bits and pieces, and chiefly only to discuss the Soviet search for a better burp gun to replace the virtually obsolescent Moisin-Nagant. A lesser segment outlines the development of the German M1943, which is the first true modern assault rifle.

    There is far too much detail that seems to me irrelevant concerning the inner workings of the Soviet weapon development process, although Chivers’ conclusions regarding the development of the Kalashnikov appear well thought out. More pertinent is the discussion of the proliferation of the weapon and its impact in subsequent years…..although Chivers’ technique of inserting intermittent anecdotes concerning people who may -or may not- have been important to the story of the Kalashnikov is a dubious technique.

    My overall view of this book (and the reason for the three stars) is that it’s basically unfinished. It could have been a significantly better effort, but comes across and needing a serious editorial rewrite.

  • MrHistory
    11:03 on December 7th, 2012
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    enjoyed this book has tons of info about various makes and models and briefly touches on the origin of the AK47. 9/10 Good read

  • Andy Jenkinsn
    11:54 on December 7th, 2012
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    This is a good information book for the collector who wants info on the AK-47-74 family of weapons.Very informative and accurate.

  • Cole Bottino
    13:03 on December 7th, 2012
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    I found this to be a fascinating book and could not put it down. However, it is not without it’s faults. The author tends to belabor his points almost to the point of annoyance. As far as the development of individual automatic weapons is concerned, the BAR is never even mentioned and the M2 carbine gets a brief passing remark, far from comprehensive. It is long on politics but very short on technical details, several times he mentions improvements to the AK operating system but fails to elaborate on what those improvements were. The reader is left to guess at the process by which the manufacture of the AK spread to so many different countries.

    On the other hand, it was obviously well researched, the story is compelling, and the battle scenes make it an exciting story as well as informative. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

  • Devline
    14:49 on December 7th, 2012
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    I wanted something technical. This book is more like a history/parts number book. Only has a couple paragraphs about Romanian ak’s. It was not what I was looking for.

  • Akiko Demske
    15:08 on December 7th, 2012
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    This book has a lot of history about the AK-47 and all it’s variants. It has firearms in it that I never even knew exsisted. Deff worth the buy super good read.

  • David Verney
    16:06 on December 7th, 2012
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    I am 13 years old and very knowledged in warfare from WWI to WWII and to see a man bring to light a weapon that has been seen in every U.S. conflict sense the Korean war is astounding. I loved this book it was long but so precise it explained every aspect of the origins of the automatic firearm. If you want a good read about an interesting topic with facts that will shock you here it is.

  • Mareen Robinson
    16:27 on December 7th, 2012
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    It is scary how many people recognize the silhouette of the AK: the distinct banana clip, stubby barrel, and steep sight post. I realized this when my wife (perhaps due to my unfortunate influence) properly identified it in a book club discussion. As the author points out it has become the primary firearm of the world – “a weapon that rearranged the rules”. It is carried by more than fifty national armies, hoisted by passionate guerillas, provided by dictators, used for intimidation and more by criminals, and wielded by child soldiers.

    Seldom jamming, easy to maintain, simplistic in components and design, and lightweight with incredible firepower, the AK has been massed produced, “licensed” for production, and knocked off with impunity. If there was an accurate count on casualties inflicted by the AK since its inception, it may well be the leader far ahead of any single conventional weapon. The author notes, “The United Nations convened a conference in 2001 by noting that small arms were principal weapons in forty-six of the forty-nine major conflicts in the 1990s, in which 4 million people died.” The AK has proved to be the perfect instrument for the proxy conflicts of the Cold War which eased itself smoothly into the terrorist weapon of choice.

    The book covers Avtomat Kalashnikova and the propaganda surrounding the AK’s development, includes a history of small arms weapon development covering Gatling, Maxim, Spandau, Thompson, and Schmeisser, features an examination of the differences in the process of development which leads to an overly long comparison with the US’s M16, along with historic uses of the AK including Sadat’s assassination and the Munich Olympics. And this is where Chivers may have gone wrong with this effort – it was just too long. However. it is now the new standard on the subject surpassing Kahaner’s AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War, Cutshaw’s Legends and Reality of the AK, Burrows Trigger Issues: Kalashnikov AK47, and Iannamico’s AK-47 The Grim Reaper (along with many other efforts).

    Samuel Cummings, a noted and colorful arms dealer, called the flow of arms “an index of the world’s folly.” The AK may well be the primary factor in that index. For those interested in a similar type of exploratory, look to Patrick Wright’s “Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine”.

  • Sanford Jami
    17:26 on December 7th, 2012
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    This book purports to be a history of the AK 47 but the author actually attempts to create a history of the “assault rifle” concept. Chivers begins by telling the story of rapid firing guns starting with the Gatling gun. He tells a little of its invention and inventor but really focuses more on the marketing of rapid firing guns. After moving into the Maxim and its many sales forms, Chivers discusses the effects WWI had on machine gun production and tactics (the Maxim saw both sides of WWI in that the British Vickers was a Maxim ).

    Probably the weakest part of the book was its attempt to describe the tactical problems of figuring out the deployment, training, TOE and employment of machine guns. Chivers oversimplifies, assuming he really understood the topic at all, to the point of uselessness in my opinion. But the basic theme of moving machine guns from large devices approximating artillery in concept to lighter and more mobile designs fitted for maneuver warfare leads to the concept of the assault rifle. While Chivers does discuss the development of the German MP 43, MP 44 and Sturmgewehr 44 series of rifles (the latter giving us the term “assault rifle”), his lineage is weakened by a thin description of the light machine gun / automatic rifle path such as the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Brno light machine gun, the Fallschirmgewehr rifles and the lack of description of the tactical concepts that let to them and were later abandoned.

    (As an aside, a book that does a good job of explaining the differences in how organization at the small unit level changes tactics can be found in “Beyond the Beachhead – The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy” by Joe Balkoski. He contrasts the organization of squads in the US Army and the German Army of 1944 and shows how the fact that the German squad was organized as two light machine gun teams around the MG42 contrasted to the Garand and BAR armament of the US Army.)

    Chivers does outline in part some of the controversy of the “official” Soviet story of the development of the Kalashnikov rifle – that its origins and the designer credited for it are in fact shrouded in Soviet propaganda of the common man made good by Soviet doctrine. He then traces the role of the AK 47 from Soviet Army battle rifle to fodder for wars of revolution and insurgency. This is probably the best portion of the work and Chivers strongest contribution to original research.

    Also traced is the development path of the AR 15/M16 rifle in strong contrast to the Kalashnikov. There is a good history of the embarrassing story of its marketing, adoption and the development problems that led to catastrophe on the battlefields of Vietnam as the M16 was fielded with poor initial development and changes to its ammunition that resulted in early jamming problems and casualties due to its failure.

    Chivers does well early on in the book to explain to the reader that “AK 47″ technically meant the earliest form of the assault rifle and that he would use the term to describe the family of related weapons in actual use such as the AKM that early replaced it and the many related weapons produced in Communist China and Warsaw Pact nations. He also correctly distinguishes the civilian legal (in the US) semi-automatic versions of the rifle.

    Overall, for the more knowledgeable this book adds some new scholarship to the topic but probably does only an adequate job of historical issues Chivers takes on. For someone not familiar with military small arms history it is a good introduction to the modern assault rifle.

  • Kyle Perkins
    18:11 on December 7th, 2012
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    This book is highly informative with everything related to the AK47 / AK74 and many other variants. If you have an AK or just want to know an in depth history as well as diagrams for parts and other useful information this book has it all. This book actually cleared up a lot of misinformation around the web and provides this information in a clear and concise manner. Highly recommended!

  • PMustang
    21:01 on December 7th, 2012
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    If your a collector of the infamous AK-47 then this is must have
    book to ad to the collection.

  • morlan
    22:52 on December 7th, 2012
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    This book has a very thorough index section, and it deserves credit for it’s detail examination of the various versions of the AK-47 and all it’s variations, by make and country. It’s not exactly a read-and-enjoy book, it’s more a reference manual…and for that alone, it is worth owning if you have an AK/AKM.

    However, having said all that, I could have done without the needless running commentary about the evil workings of Communism. I think we all kinda get that now, so kicking dirt on that subject is a bit pointless. I also found the author’s selective appraisal of history very annoying. For example, an unnecessarily lengthy section of the book is dedicated to Iraq and why we should be fighting there…rather than just focusing on the topic of Iraqi production of the AK/AKM. The fact that the author doesn’t even mention our failed search for WMDs in Iraqi is, in my opinion, a major glaring oversight. This book is often written in the past tense, which is fine if you are trying to create a work that is going to be read for many years to come. But when you do that, then in effect, you are writing a historical piece…and leaving bits and pieces of our recent past out of the book as a matter of convenience is disingenuous.

    Related to this, it doesn’t really have a good history of Kalashnikov, how the gun was specifically developed by it’s designers, and as another reviewer commented, it lacks comparison information on how a typical AK/AKM can perform on the range or in combat, how is it better/worse than an M-16/AR-15, etc. It doesn’t give any qualitative comparsion between, say, the Century Intl. Arms WASR-10 vs. the Chinese AK/AKMs, which are both available on the U.S. commercial market. I guess one AK is as good as another, so maybe it doesn’t matter much which one you get. But still, inquiring minds want to know!

    Regardless, if you own an AK/AKM, you do really need this book. The translated instruction manuals are somewhat clumsy and hard to follow for extended field stripping and minor repairs…and for that alone, it’s still worth owning. Just use the books as a reference manual, it’s very good for that.

  • Jerry Yang
    0:47 on December 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    The AK-47 Assault Rifle – the military one that can fire both single shot and full automatic, and the number one weapon along with the RPG-7 for terrorists and armies all over the world. The GUN provides you both the technical details of its development inspired by the German 7.92mm Kurtz cartridge, its adoption by the Soviet Union as a reliable weapon for use by its motorized and mechanized infantry, and eventually to its use throughout the world. The Soviets made millions of them, licensed other countries who also make the AK-47 (and its successors), and shipped millions to countries the USSR supported. The GUN traces this evolution and spread of the AK-47, and the often compared US M-16 series of assault rifles, into the 3rd world. The AK-47 series is effective (at ranges under 300m), reliable, easily maintained, manufactured (Afghanistan ‘craftsmen’ copy the design by hand) and is everywhere. It is the weapon of the untrained because it can be abused, neglected, and still shoot. Some AK-47 identified in the book as still being in use were built in the USSR in 1955 – still working after 55 years.

    Recommended for those interested in firearms and current affairs. This weapon has changed human history. It still is.

  • Lucy Arpino
    1:56 on December 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    The subject is a fascinating one, the development of the AK47 rifle and it’s impact upon warfare, but there is far too much information on extraneous topics to sustain one’s interest. A better option, if you want to know about the AK47, is Larry Kahaner’s book, AK-47 — The Weapon that Changed the Face of War. It tells the story in a succinct and compelling way.

  • Kermit Pujals
    4:04 on December 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    What a fascinating book and fun, too, in it’s way despite the grim nature of the subject matter. The detour into the history of the M-16 was also fascinating.

  • latech
    4:29 on December 8th, 2012
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    This is a great book and has lots of useful info. The only thing I can complain about is the lack of color photos in the book. Lots of black and white photos.

  • Sarin Carlson F
    5:07 on December 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I was hoping this book would be a general introduction to the AK, meaning a little history of its development, a little history of its impact on global conflicts, some general overview of design changes, pros and cons of various AKs available to civilians in the US, some background on assembly, drifting the sights, effective use of the weapon (tactics).

    The book is a very dry read. It is like reading a technical manual. If you like reading the book in your vehicle’s glove box, you might like reading this.

    It is unfortunate because the topic of AKs should make great reading material.

    Nonetheless, I will keep it as a reference manual. I am sure that it will come in handy if I have to do some minor tinkering with the rifle.

  • BrokeBackMnt
    6:32 on December 8th, 2012
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    C. J. Chivers has gone a bridge too far in this particular history of fully automatic weapons, Custer’s Last Stand, the arms trade, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Soviet myth making, Soviet achievements, terrorist organizations, African anarchy, the M-16, the incompetence of the American military and far too many other subjects.

    There can be no doubt that Chivers has done an impressive amount of research. There is also no question that “The Gun” has philosophical and political biases that interfere with telling the story of an important component of the 20th Century. Likewise, Chivers attempts to make an inanimate object the cause of human woe when it suits his purpose – and takes precisely the opposite tack when it doesn’t.

    Despite all these failings and more, Chivers has produced an interesting, if not easy to read, book.

    His core subject is the Soviet invented AK-47, an evolutionary weapon that brought the power of fully automatic firepower to even the most unsophisticated user. For those who don’t know, an automatic weapon is one that fires one bullet after another while the trigger is held back. One man with a capable automatic weapon is capable of inflicting great damage on many men with conventional semi-automatic (one bullet per trigger pull). A group of men with effective automatic weapons can be devastating in a true military situation – and creators of horrible atrocities when used by the insurgents Chivers’ employer, the New York Times, so loves to glorify. Most of the rest of us call these “insurgents” or “freedom fighters”, terrorists or more simply murderers.

    Chivers flits from one subject to another, trying to construct a great panorama that pulls together the alleged inventor of the AK-47, a natural mechanical genius of sorts named Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Soviet quest for simple, durable weapons, the spread of the AK-47 from a purely military role to symbol and tool of oppression to widespread distribution as a weapon of murder on a massive, worldwide scale.

    His research is simply outstanding. But Chivers fails to pull all his pieces together into a coherent whole.

    He begins with dissertation on Stalin’s Soviet Union in the last years of his life. Then on to the birth of machine guns and machine guns at war. He discusses traditionalist military reluctance to adapt machine guns and then the military’s wholesale acceptance once it was demonstrated how a single machine gun could slaughter thousands. “Slaughter made industrial” as Chivers so aptly names a chapter. Then the competitions that led to the invention of the AK-47.

    At about this point, Chivers begins to weave all over the place. He tries to penetrate the Kalashnikov myth – did he invent the AK-47 or not? Then he spends an inordinate number of pages essentially lambasting the United States military for procuring the M-16 when it simply wasn’t ready for a combat role. My own biases come into play here and I think Chivers spared Robert Strange McNamara and Lyndon Baines Johnson for the murder of several thousand American troops. But that is another story and not the one Chivers has chosen to tell.

    Periodically Chivers takes us on excursions to locales around the world where the exceedingly durable, exceptionally simple and devastatingly deadly AK-47 has been employed by local “militants” to murder quite efficiently. Chivers repeatedly reminds us that the Soviets lauded the AK-47 as a weapon for defense of the motherland, but more or less avoids the very deliberate policies of the former Soviet Union and then China in distributing the AK-47 as an aid to usurping local governments and spreading Communism.

    In any event, Chivers sets off to tell us what could have been a very interesting story: how the AK-47 put massive destructive power into the hands of practically anyone.

    Even with all my criticisms, Chivers’ book is still worth reading, though the true military weapons buff will find it lacking detail on the AK-47 and the political junkie will be disappointed in Chiver’s shading of the truth in many cases. For example, in one chapter about Kalashnikov, Chivers mentions that the Red Army lacked training – and completely omits any mention of the Stalinist purge of the military high command that, in great part, led to this situation, along with Stalin’s trust in Hitler.

    Personally I wish Chivers had taken a step back from his material or had some more or less impartial folks read the manuscript or, perhaps, simply had an editor with greater vision, because this could have been a much better book than it is. Chivers has certainly not exhausted the subject here and perhaps he will issue a revised second edition in the future.


  • Roger Mitchell
    7:36 on December 8th, 2012
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    Sudan/2002 & 2007-08;Uganda/2008 & 2011;Afghanistan/2003;Iraq/2005;Bosnia/1996-98

    The book provides a unique insight to one of the world’s most famous (and perhaps the most reliable) weapon made to date. What was particularly troublesome was the background of the early days of the introduction of the M-16 which was supposed to be the answer to the AK-47′s use in Vietnam. The bottom line is that the USG sought to introduce a weapons which was far inferior to the part, due to the malfunction of the weapon because of design and manufacturing deficiencies.

    Military history of years 1965 through late 1967 in Vietnam tell of horrific stories of Marines and Soldiers found dead with their weapons broken down in an effort to clear a jam. The dead as a direct result of the in-efficiencies of product development and testing are not well documented…but, only in the visual context of those who say their buddies dead…with the weapon close-by. Or, in the course of the close quarters battle with NVA or VC, the M-16 was used a club rather than a weapon.

    Frankly, our government at that time failed an effort to field a weapon to compete with the AK-47, so many decisive faults occurred with the Army procurement system..and as a direct result, many of our Soldiers and Marines died needlessly. Even after almost 50 years, we use the M4 which is a modified version of the original M-16 weapon with the basic design unchanged.

    As this is written (02 Feb 2011), according to the Army Times, the Army will be testing new weapons to replace the M4 and M-16. (Note: Most of the Reserves/Guard called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan were deployed with the M-16A2..and not the modified M4).

    Having spend alot of time in both Sudan and Uganda..the AK is the weapon of absolute choice. Virtually everyone carries an AK-47; and yet, in Sudan with the SPLA or in Uganda with the UPDF..I have never seen (emphasis added) a cleaning kit, nor seen anyone cleaning a weapon.

    And lastly, while in Afghanistan in 2003..and on the road in those Toyota HyLux trucks bumping around Paktia, Khost and Ghazni Provinces, I decided to field a short stock (hand grip only) AK-47 while in the vehicle. Easy to access, plenty of take down power, very easy to clean (yep, I cleaned it every night..about 30 or less seconds to break down)..and I knew absolutely it would not fail. (Note: I fired full auto several times to test the weapon prior to implementation).

    Checking the barrel stamp after procuring the weapon courtesy of the OGA compound nearby…the date stamp indicated my AK-47 was manufactured in the year 1969. Enough said…

    Emphasis on the new weapon to replace the M4 and M-16A2 should exclude political emphasis..or other which detracts from the objective to provide our military the absolute best we now move into the 10th year in Afghanistan.

    Chivers provides in-depth insight to some of the comments above as his experience in the Marines and an award winning journalist reinforces the historical context of the AK-47 and other infantry weapons. Many like Chivers remain active in the field in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq providing a proof source to the comments supported directly from thos “trigger pullers” who walk the walk..everyday in arms way.

    Randy Hampton

  • Steve Bell
    7:54 on December 8th, 2012
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    Excellent book covering all varieties and accessories as well as history, not the usual “gun book”, would fit well as an addendum to Janes.

  • Lisa Llano
    9:37 on December 8th, 2012
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    Chivers’ “The Gun” is ostensibly a history of the Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle (AK-47), but his attention to the prior history that led to it, and discussion of responses to it by later gunsmiths, makes it almost a history of automatic weaponry in general. Though quite a long book, I found it such engrossing reading I went through it in a few days.

    A few deficiencies:

    * more and better diagrams, and a few maps, would have been helpful;
    * I was amazed to find no mention at all of the British Browning and the Israeli UZI; if they had been discussed “The Gun” really would be a complete history of automatic weaponry;
    * as some more critical reviewers have noted, Chivers tends to be repetitive and perhaps over-exhaustive; the spotlight he focusses on government and military corruption gives an aura of scandal-mongering to a subject that needs less sensational treatment.

    But it is thoroughly documented and well-indexed, and authentic and fascinating. Four stars.

  • CliffDweller
    10:43 on December 8th, 2012
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    there are kernels of fascinating information, and the angle the author took is great. he links the ak47 to far reaching consequences of soviet policies, and contrasts the m16 development failures to the way ak was born.

    chapter structure is utterly incoherent, book reads as a collection of short articles stuck together haphazardly. repetitive points, argued ad noseam. how did this man win the pulitzer is beyond me with this sloppy writing.

  • Sydni
    12:50 on December 8th, 2012
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    A well written book that goes a long way toward explaining why the AK is just plain better than the AR. Good book.

  • jhonka
    14:41 on December 8th, 2012
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    Incredibly interesting and insightful in addressing topics not often at the forefront of media coverage. Does on occasion get bogged down in detail not critical to the narrative, and there is a bit of repetition particularly with respect to coverage of the Soviet political and social climate that supported the development of the AK47. That said, the research is impressive; only wish the author found a way to include more perspectives on the performance of a broader range of weapons systems and industry participants; perhaps that’s the focus of the next book!

    Overall, well done.

  • Paul W
    15:16 on December 8th, 2012
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    I enjoy firearms and Soviet history. This has both, in spades! It’s well written and remarkably apolitical. The opening section on Gatling and Maxim (I’m talking about the people here) made for entertaining and informative reading.

  • Jere Posada
    15:57 on December 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Joe Poyer’s book The AK-47 and AK-74 Kalashnikov Rifles and Their Variations is fantastic. It provides moderately informed readers with the kind of encyclopedic and in-depth knowledge to quickly become very well informed about Kalashnikovs. It can also still answer questions the better informed might have. The chapters in the book on development history and the part by part descriptions really provide the reader a solid foundation for knowledge on this topic. There are also chapters on accessories, non-Russian Kalashnikovs, other assault rifles influenced by the Kalashnikov (like the Belgian FNC and the Swiss SG 550), SVD type sniper rifles and the best explanation I have seen of the brilliant but overly complicated AN-94 Abakan assault rifle. Poyer even includes a decent guide to maintaining and firing the AK in the appendices.
    I personally enjoyed the technical information the most. For example I had read elsewhere that the newer AK-74 and 100 series rifles had a stronger locking system than earlier AKs but there was no explanation why. Poyer explained this with comparison pictures and specifications showing the larger locking lugs on the AK-74 bolt. At the same time I don’t agree with all of Poyer’s conclusions. For example I don’t really see the AN-94 as “The Future of Russian Small Arms”. It’s much more complicated and expensive than the Kalashnikov rifles as well as being heavier. That it is still in very limited use more than twelve years after adoption backs up my conclusion.
    Finally there are areas where Poyer could improve a third edition. An index and better organization would be helpful. Likewise he should include a chapter on RPK machine guns, more info on the Chinese and Yugoslavian variations and info on the newer optics. Notwithstanding this, the book still easily merits five stars.

  • Gareth
    17:35 on December 8th, 2012
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    The first half, almost, of this book is pre-WWII. It dewells on the history of automatic weapons development all the way back to pre-Civil War. I found that part of the book less than appealing, but certainly well-researched and no doubt as accurate as this sort of discourse can be.

    The second half of the book, a little more than half actually, is fascinating and certainly worth buying the book. It, too, is well-researched and fairly well written. It also jumps around a bit too much for me, but perhaps others have a concentration span longer than mine.

    The astounding facts that come out were enough to infuriate me with our own government’s stupidity and lack of concern for our fighting men’s lives. Seriously, I was so angry with the historical treatise of Vietnam, Korea, etc., I could have spit nickles. We fell twenty years behind the rest of the world in recognizing the value of an assault rifle. As a result thousands upon thousands of our fighting men died needlessly in post WW-II conflicts because of our military’s arogance and stupidity, and congress’s inaction and indecision. The Secretary of Defense, MacNamera, was no help either.

    It’s a real eye-opener, amd you won’t like what you see. But the book overall is great.

  • Irene James
    21:06 on December 8th, 2012
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    If you have a even a passing interest in firearms, you should buy this book – I couldn’t put it down!

  • groundhod day
    21:16 on December 8th, 2012
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    I have also posted this review on Goodreads.

    The Gun by the New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers is mainly about the development of the AK-47 (and related weapons) by the Soviet Union, its spread, and the effects of that wide distribution. The AK-47 is an assault rifle, a weapon capable of both single shot and full automatic fire, with a round propelled at a speed greater than that of pistol ammunition but slower than the bolt action rifles used by militaries before assault rifeles became the dominant small arm. About 100 million weapons of the AK-47 family seem to have been produced, compared with the 10 million of the American M-16 family. These weapons are the most widely distributed rifles ever. Many other nations, such as Finland and Israel, have developed rifles that are similar to the AK-47.

    Although focused on the AK-47 family, the first 140 pages of The Gun deal with the development of automatic weapons before the AK-47. Chivers starts with Dr. Gatling and his gun. Chivers sees a pattern in this history that converged on the concept of the assault rife, as the machines guns developed before the First World War got smaller (the Gatling gun in its original form with its carriage weighed about a ton) and as submachine guns using pistol ammunition were developed during the First World War.

    The AK-47 was not the first assault rife. The German army during the Second World War developed a similar weapon, the extent of whose influence on the development of the AK-47 is unclear. The AK-47 was developed in the years just after the Second World War. Also unclear is the extent of Mihail T. Kalashnikov’s control over the design of his eponymous rifle. Mr. Kalashnikov was certainly an important designer of this weapon; however other Russian sources, often by those who claim to have contributed to the design process, have emerged suggesting that some of the design elements of the final weapon were not originally conceived of by Kalashnikov. Roughly three different rounds of design occured to come up with the most common variant, the AKM. In the 1970s a variant called the AK-74, was developed using ammunition of a caliber similar to the M-16.

    The Soviet Union helped set up factories to produce the AK-47 in China, Poland, East Germany, and other nations. Some nations, such as Albania, received help in setting up factories from those nations that were aided by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and China also provided arms to many nations such as Vietnam and Cuba, that did not manufacture the weapons. This spread of the weapon, combined with the illicit selling of stockpiled weaopons after the fall of the Soviet Union and its east European satellite governments, allowed the weapon to be widely available.

    The author also describes the sorry history of how the United States entered the Vietnam conflict without a suitable assault rifle and its panicky and ill-planned distribution of the M-16 to make up for this failure. Unlike many other nations, procurement officials in the United States did not take the development of assault rifes in the late 1940s and 1950s very seriously. They did not want to adopt a weapon with a less powerful and lower range round than their traditional rifles and saw the AK-47 as a mere submachine gun. Unfortunately, most soldiers cannot use an assault rife with the larger caliber and higher velocity rounds traditional among military rifles. These larger, heavier rounds also limit the number of rounds a soldier can carry, and it is arguable that the number of rounds Iand thus volume of fire) is more important than a round that is lethal at a distance beyond what combat usually occurs at. The M-14 was planned as weapon capable of fully-automatic fire with a traditional round, but most of those issued to the troops had a lock on them that prevented them from use as automatic weapons; they were restricted to semi-automatic fire. This feature, combined with the larger size of weapon needed for a larger round, made the weapon not the best for Vietnam (and probably most combat circumstances). Unfortunately, the M-16 in its original form was rushed into use without enough development and with a round whose propellent made the problems with the weapon more severe. Basically, in its original form the M-16 lacked sufficient corrosion resistance, its plastic parts broke too easily, the barrel was easily fouled, and worst of all it freqently jammed in combat. These problems, gradually fixed, were accompained by a sorry public relations campaign by the senior military and defense officials denying that there were any problems.

    The spread of the AK-47 has made the problems of poorly governed areas worse. When a despotic government is in place, the AK-47 is an excellent weapon of repression. When conditions of civil war exist, the AK-47, with its ease of use, tremendous reliability, wide availability, and tremendous fire power has allowed one side or other to keep on fighting in circumstances where it would have been defeated but for these weapons. Thus misery persists.

  • Another Hugo
    23:26 on December 8th, 2012
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    If this were a book about tanks, it would be of the “rivet counter” school: it gives tiny technical points in excruciating detail, so if you want to know the precise dimensions of the AK cleaning kit case and cap, read on. However, if you want to buy a civilian-legal AK and are trying to learn more about your choices, forget this book–it barely mentions civilian models or applications, and when it does, the information if badly dated. This book is almost exclusively a look at the details of military-only AKs and variants. Since it doesn’t talk about actual combat use or tactics much, it doesn’t fit as military history. I suppose there might be a few down collectors out there with the money and political ins to collect full-auto vintage military AKs. This books is for them. For everyone else, it is basically just a window shopping guide at best, or a waste of time and money at best. We are all still waiting for the book that will guide us in buying and using a civilian legal AK.

  • Eric Medemar
    2:31 on December 9th, 2012
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  • Dr. Nick
    2:50 on December 9th, 2012
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    Very interesting and informative book on the development of the the AK-47 as well as a pretty thorough chapter on the introduction of the M16. Would highly commend it, even with the writers in my view, symplistic solution of how to stop the carnage of the world.

  • Robert Johnson
    4:37 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This book has a decent, short history of the rifle and a somewhat thorough instructional section for breaking it down, cleaning and maintenance.

    Unfortunately, the main reason I bought it is because I am in the market to buy an AK-47 and wanted some guidance on comparing all of the various versions from the different countries. For that purpose the book is not very useful at all, because all it provides are some historical information and technical specifications for certain guns manufactured in each country (except the receivers!) without any comment at all regarding relative quality or why one might pick one over the other.

    In addition, the book includes a lengthy section on the AK-74, which is fine if that is what you are interested in, but I would have rather had more substantive information on the different versions of the AK-47.

  • hmmmmmmm
    5:36 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    “The Gun” provides some very interesting insights into the history of machine guns and modern arms trade, yet it is not a complete book, but rather a series of separate articles. It is hard to find a leading idea that would join the separate stories conveyed in “The Gun”.

    The book starts with an excellent historical account of developments of the machine gun and goes on to describe the invention of AK-47 and M-16 in this way. But then it stops – for no apparent reason. I would very much like to read about what were the developments in assault rifle design since 1960′s, but the historical account stops there.

    A very interesting chapter describes all the problems with the adoption of M-16 by the US armed forces. But the description is tiresome and definetely too detailed. For no good reason the author delves into who-said-what-to-whom-and-when and tries to figure out who deserves the blame for US Marines’ deaths in Vietnam. It is an interesting story, but a different one from the historical account in other chapters. And just when I hoped that the author would describe a similar problems with a botched implementation of UK’s SA80 rifle – the story shifts again.

    Third topic covered in this book is terrorism and warfare in third world countries. But since the first part of the book was taken up by other subjects, this one is also covered in a partial fashion – with no real background or details. This part of the book reads more like a collection of trivia – from strange beliefs of African rebels, through partial retelling of terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics, to description of one person’s gunshot injuries – with no clear train of thought to connect it.

    There is also a discussion of morals and life story of M. Kalashnikov, which could be a nice study of lifestyle choices in a totalitarian state, but – when jammed between three other subjects – is just too brief and disjointed.

    Despite those problems, the book is a fine read, interesting and engaging, but it feels like a “bait and switch” – starting on one topic for just long enough to instill curiosity, and then switching to different matters.

    Don’t buy the Kindle version. It is too expensive and full of bugs – simply an inferior product, and with no text-to-speech. (The bugs include: bad typesetting, typos, errors in format conversion, notes that are in wrong order, special formatting – i.e. bold text, chapter titles’ emphasis – that is only visible when you use “next page” function and not when you skip directly to some chapter, the illustrations at the end are not listed in the table of contents and can be easily missed).

  • Shaun Connell
    6:08 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Chris Chivers knows how to tell a story that has historical significance, depth and insight. The Gun explains how one rifle changed the face of war in the late 20th Century. Formerly the New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Chivers takes the reader behind the scenes inside the Soviet industrial and propaganda machine, laying out a fascinating narrative of how the regime plotted and schemed to engineer myth while designing the automatic rifle that was the most significant technical factor in the North Vietnamese victory over the south. Chivers wraps his deep understanding about military history inside a refreshing compendium of characters – heroes, inventors, knaves and entrepreneurs. He knows the secret of story-tellling; the reader finishes each page by asking, and then what happened? – Bing West, Newport, RI

  • Archie_
    8:07 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    C.J. Chivers has an exceptional gift for story telling. His writing style is breezy; his mastery of the subject of the AK-47 and its derivatives is complete.

    His work for The New York Times has won several prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; especially notable is his work on their At War blog, which often features discussions of captured AK-47s.

    But The Gun simply does not deliver on much it promises, and it has significant structural flaws, due in large part to biting off too much to chew and in some part to poor editing.

    Chivers begins by describing the development and initial world deployment of the Gatling and Maxim guns.

    There’s no new scholarship here. Chivers argues that the Gatling gun aided the British Empire in overcoming massive, but ill-equipped, native colonial uprisings. He also notes how Russia’s Gatlings inflicted substantial casualties on regular Japanese troops during the seige of Port Arthur in 1904-05.

    Chivers agrees with the conventional argument, that tactics were not in tune with technology — namely, the Maxim gun and its derivatives — during World War I.

    Perhaps the most valuable insights we gain from these examinations are exceptionally entertaining and informative biographies of Richard Gatling and Hiram Maxim, each fascinating for completely divergent reasons.

    It is not until Chivers begins discussing Mikhail Kalashnikov that the serious problems begin.

    Significant effort is spent in debunking the myth that Kalashnikov alone was responsible for development of the AK-47, as well as devolving the official state history of the man.

    At times, it feels as though Chivers has an ax to grind; indeed, near the end of the book, where Chivers discusses the role of the AK-47 and its derivatives in political strife, he seems to all but blame Kalashnikov for causing all the trouble in the world.

    Some of this may be the product of his writing style, which lends itself to the aforementioned structural problems in the book.

    Specifically, Chivers repeats himself a great deal, usually at the predictable pace of every 6 pages or so per chapter. This is especially notable in the first half of the book.

    This may be the product of his U.S. Marines background; the military is fond of the instructional format, “tell them what you’re going to say; then say it; then tell them what you said.” It could be the product of his journalism background; perhaps the book was written as essays, and too much reliance was placed on an editor to sew column-length sections into chapters.

    Whatever the case, it comes off as pedantic at best, and sometimes as déjà vu.

    In any event, Chivers leans quite a bit on “we’ll never know,” not only in addressing the many open questions about the truths and state fictions in Kalashnikov’s life, but also in far more important parts of his books — such as how, specifically, certain AK-47s found their way into given hands.

    Admittedly, it’s true that records on specific Soviet bloc arms transfers probably aren’t available; certainly, such records don’t exist in the cases of looting and black markets, in the wake of the Soviet collapse.

    But had Chivers devoted as much effort and attention to examining the case of Leonid Minin, the Ukranian arms dealer whom he does name, as he did to debunking the myth of Kalashnikov, we might well have seen the promised picture of how guns made their way from state arsenals to armed insurrections. As it is, we hear primarily about the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, which was armed by the Sudan government.

    At about 400 actual pages of narrative, it seems odd to say that this book sought to do too much in too little a space, but that’s the impression it leaves.

    It is, effectively, three books: a history of the automatic rifle, a biography of Mikhail Kalashnikov, and an essay of the effects of Soviet overproduction of light arms on political stability in the Third World.

    As is, The Gun adequately addresses the first; flogs the second past death; and but scratches the surface of the third.

    The lament isn’t that this book has defects; it’s that Chivers is capable of so much more, and confined his effort to the wrong space.

  • dmccall
    11:29 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Chivers, a former U.S. Marine and New York Times correspondent, gives an overview of the development of automatic weapons for the military. So in that sense, it can be called a “tour of force.” Although I assumed that the book was focused on the Kalashnikov (the AK-47 and its progeny), the discussion of the Kalashnikov series of rifles occupies only a portion of the book. Chivers starts with the introduction of the birth of machine guns, the Gatling gun, and concludes with the Kalashnikov and the M-16. Along the way, he paints portraits of some of the principal personalities involved, though oddly there is not much mention of John Moses Browning. Chivers demythologizes Kalashnikov, both the gun and the man.

    One of the themes the author develops is that the Kalashnikov series of rifles is widely prevalent today not because of inherent superiority or market forces but because of decisions by autocratic communist regimes. As a result of those decisions, we now have a plague of automatic weapons in the hands of insurgents, terrorists, child soldiers, and criminals. Chivers also traces the development of the M-16, its hurried introduction into service to respond to the Kalashnikov, and he explains the M-16′s unreliable performance in the early days of the war in Viet Nam (and what seems like shocking dereliction of duty by the top brass in the development of the M-16 and its response to reports of malfunctions).

    The book may be disappointing for those interested interested in the technical details of the Kalashnikov, but those details can be found in technical works. What The Gun provides is the historical context, and impact, of the Kalashnikov as well as what led to its becoming ubiquitous in all the hot spots of the world.

  • beachmark
    12:22 on December 9th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This is a great book on the AK-47 and 74. The book gives a good history of the weapon and most of its variants. It is a good resource including disassembly and reassembly.

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