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AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War 1st Edition

2.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471726418
ISBN-10: 0471726419
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Editorial Reviews


* Journalist Kahaner (The Quotations of Chairman Greenspan: Words from the Man Who Can Shake the World) presents a detailed study of the AK-47, the single most deadly weapon ever produced, and its designer. Mikhail Kalashnikov, a mechanically inclined Russian soldier, came up with this simple submachine gun to counter superior German weaponry during World War II. Brought into mass production in 1947 (this date formed the final part of the weapon's name, Avtomat Kalashnikov 1947), the AK-47 was shipped by the Soviet Union to Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East during the Cold War. In part because they are so easy to make, 80 to 100 million AKs have been manufactured and distributed during the last 59 years. Moreover, the AK has proven a superior weapon to the American M-16. Kahaner provides an interesting discussion of how internal politics in the U.S. Army led it to adopt, instead, an inferior, lightweight machine gun. Kalashnikov, who lives in Russia today, never became rich from his design, but he did receive recognition outside his homeland for the impact of his weapon. A fascinating examination; recommended for all libraries.
—Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg (Library Journal, October 15, 2006)


"Anyone who has fought or watched a war over the last half-century recognizes the AK-47, but few know much about it. Kahaner traces the rifle's role in wars from Vietnam to Iraq and from Central America to Central Africa. A fascinating biography of a weapon that has truly changed world history."
—Stephen Kinzer, author of Overthrow

"During the past half century, the AK-47 assault rifle has established itself as the most ubiquitous implement of destruction on the planet. No other gun comes close for its durability, low price, ease of operation, and sheer killing power. It has become a mainstay of armies and terrorists alike, and a universal icon of revolutionary upheaval. Larry Kahaner's book is the best history of this weapon that I have seen. AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the World will appeal to anyone who has ever watched the History Channel—or the evening news."
—Max Boot, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Savage Wars of Peace


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471726419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471726418
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,661,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. W. Levesque on April 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am strongly ambivalent about AK47. On the one hand it's easy to read and it covers an interesting subject that is relevant today - that easy access to the AK series of weapons in the third world today has helped fuel violence in the last 20 years and is likely to do so for another generation. On the other hand, the book is really a poor political analysis; a book that would not have even been published except for its tie to the AK.

I began the book with high hopes but as I was reading the first few chapters I became increasingly uncomfortable. Finally I realized what I was reading was more of a political commentary interspersed with discussions of the AK.

First, despite his argument that the AK "fuels" conflicts around the world you have to keep in mind that the AK is only one variable in a complex equation of why violence exists. His implication that the AK somehow causes the violence is simplistic and he never really analyzes other causal factors. Having said that, in a strategic sense, the AK does provide the "means" in the strategic equation of a given group trying to achieve a particular goal.

Kahaner also tries to answer the question as to "why" the AK has become so prevalent in today's conflicts. He does this by addressing three factors; political context, arms trading, and the AK's low cost. This leads to the books second weakness: Kahaner spends most of his time with light-weight political analysis. He seems to rely more on "popular" interpretations of past and current wars vice any serious analysis of a given situation. He does this even to the point of throwing in several conspiracy theories without question, and he sometimes engages in outright speculation without supporting his claims by identifying sources.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The AK-47 (the weapon, not the book) turned out to be a reliable rifle that got the job done. This book turns out to be not all that reliable, and it didn't get the job done. I expected a lot more technical detail on the weapon, how it operates, and so on. It's clear that the author is not a gun guy and had no interest in becoming an expert on the subject simply because he was writing a book about a gun.

The book's focus on the effect that the AK-47 has had on the world was interesting, and not something that I had spent much time thinking about before. To that extent, the book was valuable. The chapter on the UN's abortive effort to control trafficking in weapons like the AK-47, however, reflects an astonishing naivete on the author's part. Although the author tries to be balanced in his reporting on the impact of the AK-47, he suffers from a bias that affects what he mentions and what he doesn't. As many of the other reviewers complain, the author seems to think that the problem with the AK-47 is with the object and with not the people who use it.

The author's subtext for the book is "If only the AK-47 had never been invented..." Well, if it hadn't been, people would still be killing each other for the usual reasons, and the author doesn't adequately support his hypothesis that the carnage would be less.
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Format: Paperback
I was disappointed. This book was initially well-written but rapidly devolved into the world of make-believe. Technically, some of the observations the author made were accurate and even relevent but towards the end it descended into some bizarre bashing of U.S. policy regarding gun control... the United Nations could have stepped in and provided controls over the distribution of AK-47s around the world if only the Bush adminsitration had been on board. This alone is an absurd statement. If someone can tell me of a successful UN initiative over the last 50 years I would be glad to listen to it. In the meantime, the UN's role in the sex trade in Africa and its abysmal record in limiting nuclear proliferation makes it a poor model for fixing the problems of the world.

The book is remarkably under-illustrated, even in regards to some graphics and photos which would be easy to acquire. Oh, and the part added to the book about how the Coalition is getting its butt kicked in Iraq thanks to the AK-47 just seems to be a last-minute attempt to cash in on "hate America."

There are better books.
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Format: Paperback
This was a truly sad piece of 'journalism'. The author can't even be bothered to get the technical details of the weapon correct, much less the biographical aspects of the inventor's life or the political ramifications of the weapon system and it's effect on modern warfare. As a firearms and history enthusiast, I was appalled that such drivel managed to get published. If you want to read a good book about AKs, check out Ezell or Poyer.

I bought a copy in an airport Borders, thinking it would make a good present for an AK-loving friend, but after reading it on the plane it now resides in my condo, shimming a loose shelf support. If I didn't have an almost religious aversion to destroying books, it would have been tinder on a camping trip instead.
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Format: Hardcover
Kahaner's book reads like it was written by a person that started 'knowing' the conclusion they wanted to reach and didn't worry about fact checking or research overly much.

The first couple of chapters that discuss technical or mechanical detail are rife with errors:

-p16 'Many regular rifles, like the M1 Garand, the mainstay of U.S. troops during World War II, came in both full-length and carbine versions.'

The M1 Garand was only ever issued as a full length rifle. There was a M1 Carbine, but it's mostly cosmetically related to the Garand.

-p21 'Kalashnikov... used a "short stroke" piston to push back the bolt and eject and load another round.'

The AK47 type rifle uses a long stroke gas piston to operate the weapon. Additionally, the power for loading comes from the recoil spring, not the gas piston.

-p23 'The bolt rotated widely, making it easy for the round to find its proper place in the chamber., Think of trying to poke a pencil into a hole. It would be much easier if, when you got the pencil tip near the hole, even slightly askew, you rotated it.'

The bolt on AK pattern rifles does not rotate until the cartridge is almost completely chambered. The mechanism that Kahaner describes is interesting, but it's not implemented in any self loading firearm that I'm aware of. Maybe he should apply for a patent.

-p23 'designing components with looser tolerances, more space between parts.'

The author is confusing tolerance with clearance. A tolerance would be: Make this steel rod 10mm wide, it can be up to .01mm either fatter or skinnier than 10mm. That the steel rod is going to fit in a hole 12mm wide has absolutely no bearing on the tolerance, just the clearance.
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