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The Gun Hardcover – October 12, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 142 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
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From Booklist

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 world’s 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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743270762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743270762
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #664,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"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.
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Format: Hardcover
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
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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