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The Gun by C. J. Chivers

The Gun (2010)

by C. J. Chivers

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3821544,836 (3.87)3
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
An excellent over view of the people and the situation behind the making of the AK-47. Very interesting read for anyone that cares to learn more about the rifle. ( )
  rdmhellyer | Nov 21, 2018 |
detailed, balanced, great insight, great slice of history. ( )
  haylock | Feb 6, 2016 |
I got way more than I bargained for with The Gun by C.J. Chivers.

I'm doing research for a novel, and have been reading up on some famous guns. This book is advertised as a history of the AK-47, and it's by a journalist so I knew it'd be relatively objective. Little did I realize I'd also learn so much about the Soviet Union, early US gun history (including the Gatling and the Tommy Gun) and the atrocity that was the M-16 in the Vietnam War. And that's just to name a few tangents.

No one can deny this is a well-researched book with a lot of interesting information. It also does a great job of showing the terrifying consequences of the spread of automatic arms throughout the world. It is, however, by no means a quick or easy read, and I have to admit that I often found myself checking how much I had left to go.

I am glad that I read it, but I am even more ecstatic that I got through it all. Take that as you will. ( )
  wethewatched | Jan 7, 2016 |
This is a great book. The author delves into the history of the machine gun. He starts with the Gatling, moves onto the Maxim, covers the AK-47, then hits the M-16. The book is focused on the AK but covers those other weapons for a context of what the AK is. This books is extremely well researched and is annotated quite extensively. The book also stirs emotions related to the atrocities committed with the AK, the failures of the early M-16, and many other aspects related to machine guns in general. There are many stories of battles and gunfights interspersed in this book to give examples of how each gun has been used. A very enlightening read for anyone, not just gun lovers. ( )
  JaredChristopherson | Nov 16, 2015 |
History of the Kalashnikov rifle and related weapons, and of Kalashnikov himself (with concessions to the unreliability of Soviet history, including the multiple stories the inventor himself told). Starts with the beginning of automatic weaponry in the Civil War and various colonial endeavors up to WWI, where the great powers ignored all the lessons they should’ve learned unloading automatics on colonized peoples, as if white skin protected against the devastation these weapons could cause. Ends with the dissemination of AK rifles and related weapons to insurgents, terrorists, and freedom fighters around the world; what started as a weapon of the state turned into a weapon against it, since the rifles are not much use against really well-trained fighters but can be used—even by barely-trained children—to disrupt and destroy civilian life. There’s not much of a through-line to the story, but it’s one part of the answer to the question ‘how did we get into this mess?’ ( )
  rivkat | Aug 13, 2014 |
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Machine gun history,
Assault rifle made Russian
A bomb meaningless

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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