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The Gun [Kindle Edition]

C. J. Chivers
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $11.02
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Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc


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Book Description

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.

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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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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

Product Details

  • File Size: 25453 KB
  • Print Length: 498 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743271734
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003V1WT7C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,425 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but disjointed October 31, 2010
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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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling History October 15, 2010
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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58 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Iron October 24, 2010
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read October 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Books Shoved Into One Cover December 18, 2010
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective on the AK-47
Author takes a long time in getting to the story of Mikhail Kalashnikov and inventing the AK-47. But, the trip down memory lane and history behind the machine guns that were the... Read more
Published 1 day ago by DaGrinch
5.0 out of 5 stars All about Ak's is in here.
This is a good one written from the end user's point of view. Would definitely recommend it and Chever's other books.
Published 4 days ago by Gary Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Written, ironically, like a product of the Soviet state
There is no doubt that Chivers is knowledgeable. There is no doubt that he did copious research. There is no doubt of the various fields he has a grasp of. Read more
Published 4 days ago by A. Djojonegoro
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and Disjointed
It's three books in one. It covers the develop of early machine guns; the development of the AK-47 line; and the development and crookedness behind the far inferior M-16. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Kerri K.
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than just the Ak.
What a great read! Much richer than a history of the AK. Want to get insight into today's Russian Government
mindset? Read this.
Published 26 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Good base knowledge of the development of machine guns for use in war.
Let me start by saying that I am not a historian, nor do I have an in depth knowledge of the history of firearms development. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert Merchant
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh what a gun
It is a great read! Oone of the best written essays on the AK 47 I have read in the last few years. Kept my interest to the very end.
Published 1 month ago by Carlton Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gun
For history and military buffs, this is one you should have on your shelf. It's somewhat embarassing to America that a behemoth state controlled nightmare like the USSR would best... Read more
Published 1 month ago by midwestmama
5.0 out of 5 stars The AK-47's History No One Knows
I think this book is for those who want to know the real story behind the AK's genesis, the few who helped design it, whose names are known and the hundreds who perfected it and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. OConnor
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written piece of history.
It was very ironic the day I finished the book was the day I saw on the news that Kaleshnicov had passed away ??
Published 2 months ago by Geoff
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More About the Author

A former Marine Corps infantry officer, C.J. Chivers is a senior writer at The New York Times. He contributes to the Foreign and Investigative desks and frequently posts on the At War blog, writing on war, tactics, human rights, politics, crime and the arms trade from Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Georgia, Chechnya and elsewhere on a wide range of assignments.

In addition to writing, he shoots video and, occasionally, photographs. He served as Moscow correspondent from June 2004 through 2007, and was the paper's Moscow bureau chief in 2007 and 2008. He has also covered war zones or conflicts in the Palestinian territories, Israel and Central Asia. From 1999 until 2001 he covered crime and law enforcement in New York City, working in a three-reporter bureau inside the police headquarters in Lower Manhattan. While in this bureau, he covered the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Before joining The Times, Chivers was a staff writer at The Providence Journal in Rhode Island from 1995 until 1999, covering crime and politics, and was a contributor to several magazines, writing on wildlife, natural history and conservation. He remains a contributor to Esquire and Field & Stream.

From 1988 until 1994, Chivers was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, serving in the Persian Gulf War and performing peacekeeping duties as a company commander during the Los Angeles riots. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1994.

In 1996, Chivers received the Livingston Award for International Journalism for a series on the collapse of commercial fishing in the North Atlantic. Two of his stories in The Times from Afghanistan were cited in the award of the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2002. In 2007, his reconstruction for Esquire of the terrorist siege of a public school in Beslan, Russia, won the Michael Kelly Award and National Magazine Award for Reporting. He was also part of The Times's team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2009, for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. His combat reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan, with that of his colleague Dexter Filkins and the photographer Tyler Hicks, with whom he often works, was selected in 2010 by New York University as one of the Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade.

His book of history and conflict, "The Gun," mixes years or archival research, battlefield reportage and investigative reporting in Europe, Russia, the United States and Africa to document the origins, spread and effects of the world's most abundant firearm. Told through battlefield reconstructions and character sketches that trace an evolution in technology and in war, it will be published by Simon & Schuster in October, 2010.

Chivers was born in Binghamton, N.Y. He graduated with a B.A. cum laude in English from Cornell University in January 1988 and was the 1995 valedictorian of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also graduated from several military schools, including the United States Army's Ranger Course. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and their five children.

Articles, essays, blog posts, photographs and video reports by C.J. Chivers can be found on the websites of The New York Times, Esquire, and the At War blog, or on

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