The Gun
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The Gun

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  947 ratings  ·  142 reviews
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 d...more
ebook, 496 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by Simon & Schuster (first published October 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,996)
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The AK-47 holds almost mythological status in the world. Terrorists, revolutionaries, and insurrectionists all brandish this Russian-made weapon in defiance of those in power. Chivers calls it “a ready equalizer against morally or materially superior foes.” The U.S. decided to be more sophisticated and complicated and outfitted its soldiers with the M-16, a weapon I remember hearing it being loathed by soldiers just returned from Vietnam as chronically unreliable. A theme of the book is the Unit...more
Gerhardt Himmelmann
Chivers sets out to provide a history of the Soviet AK-47 assault rifle. He promises to provide not just an account of the weapon and its users, but the broader political context of the widespread availability of cheap, reliable assault rifles, to militaries, to paramilitaries and to criminals too. This availability has, Chivers writes, "influenced security and development in large sections of the world." For the most part, I think he succeeds in what he sets out to do.

The Gun is extremely acces...more
i. merey
"I would like to ask Mr. Kalashnikov, what made you think about making such a horrible machine? What were you thinking about? Helping people or destroying their lives? I'm sure that you are a smart guy. Why didn't you go for finding a way to bring peace to life again? What we had--all those kind of guns through history--wasn't enough to make a man think about something more useful for people's lives rather than finding another killing machine?" (-asked by a man almost killed by AK47 fire.

Eugene Miya
I first heard of this book when publicity from NPR interviewed its author. I briefly thumbed through a hard bound copy at Books, Inc., and it cross my "consider to read" threshold (when I had time). I chanced to find a discounted paper back copy at Eliot Bay during a business trip/conference in Seattle. Publicity worked.

The Gun is mostly a threaded history of automatic weapons leading up to the AK-47, Kalashikov the man, and issues which make the AK social symbol (mostly notably on flags {the au...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Although the title may initially put off some readers, The Gun is a far-ranging work of war reporting, military history, sociology, and politics. The automatic weapon is, of course, the focus, but Chivers goes far beyond a mere technical history to offer "an engrossing yet plainspoken exploration of what guns are and what they do," from their psychological effects to their economic and political impacts (Salon). Chivers, whose firsthand reportorial and military experiences informed his book, lef...more
Great book, highly recommended. This is not an engineering treatise or a book about the battlefield; it is a book about people. Although guns are the author's unifying theme, the stories are all about individuals: heroes, charlatans, arms merchants, tribesmen, terrorist, victims, and their courage, fear, pain, joys and so on. Oddly, I found the least interesting person to be Comrade Kalashnikov. The latter part of the book is quite engaging as it describes the consequences of proliferating the "...more
Smith Nickerson
I picked this up while browsing in the UW bookstore. The title was not very appealing and the reviews only encouraged me to skim a couple of pages. But just by chance I started reading about the initial distribution of the M-16 to soldiers in Vietnam and the total disregard for the lives of service members who tried to use them.

Even though Mr Chivers focuses on the development and distribution of the AK-47, he gives an accurate description the low ethical value of the commonly termed Military In...more
Christopher Fox
This comprehensive survey of the AK-47 which Chivers argues is the pre-eminent personal assault rifle in the history of armed combat, goes far beyond a simple recounting of dates, personalities and events to include pre-history (back into the 1800's); social, economic, diplomatic and territorial causes and impacts of this weapon. He doesn't hesitate to detail the crass stupidity and ineptitude of various political, bureaucratic decision makers wherever they may be. Chapter 7's detailed examinati...more
Steele Dimmock
This is not just a book about the AK-47, it's about all automatic guns in general - from the Gatling to the M16.

It's filled to the brim with minute detail on the people, deals and politics around automatic weapons. None of which I found dull, but rather interesting aspects that only add to the narrative.

I particularly enjoyed the WW1 discussion with the soldiers not being accustomed to newly introduced machine guns and the Vietnam War M16 fiasco. Both of which frame the events and photos of thes...more
Chivers is a knowledgeable person, but his writing style is so pedantic, didactic, and other forms of "ic" that this book reads like a product of the Soviet state. :-)

Not that I know what the writing style of a Soviet book would be. However, I imagine that it would be something like this, where each sentence has to contain at least word denigrating exploitative Capitalist system. In this case, it seems every paragraph has to contain at least one sentence vilifying the Soviet manufacturing indust...more
Curtis Butturff
OK leave it to The Marines to write perhaps the most significant analysis of "small arms" in oh since the American Civil War one might argue but definitely since 1947. '47 is of course where the AK-47 got the later part of it's acronym and with the gun so ubiquitous these days it does not hurt to remember the original design came over 60 years ago which even if the gun was not a technological wonder it still was revolutionary.

Ever hold an AK? If you are an American probably not but if you live i...more
Paul Pessolano
It is not hard to determine "The Gun" of choice if you are in the military. It is also not difficult to determine "The Gun" of choice for those involved in crime. "The Gun" is the AK-47, or the Kalashnikov.

Chivers gives a brief history of the assault rifle and how it has progressed through the years. He takes the reader through the emergence of the Gatling Gun and the several machine guns that changed the way wars have been fought from the First World War to the present.

The AK-47 has proven itse...more
"For people who study the universe of disorder, automatic Kalashnikovs serve as reasonably reliable units of measure. Arms-control specialists and students of conflict look to the price of Kalashnikov assault rifles in a nation's open–market arms bazaars to determine both the degree to which destabilized lands are awash in small arms and the state of risk. When prices rise, public anxiety is considered high. When they sink, the decline can indicate a conflict is ebbing. Because there is no surer...more
Michael Burnam-fink
For a book ostensibly about the AK-47, the AK-47 is by far the least interesting subject covered. Chivers taking a looking, elliptical approach to the automatic rifle, starting with the primitive Gatling guns and Maxims of the 19th century, the slaughter of the trenches in WW1, and after 3 or 4 chapters, finally into the AK-47. Mikhail Kalashnikov is painted as an enigmatic figure, a Soviet prodigy who has altered the facts of his life again and again. But what is undoubtable is that the rifle t...more
Dec 05, 2013 Gary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marines, gun enthusiasts
An entertaining book that was clearly written by a Marine. Who else would set out to write a history of the machine gun? Starting with Gatling and his weapon, moving through successors like Hiram Maxim, and ultimately settling upon the life and times of Kalashnikov and, more importantly, the line of weapons his prize-winning design inspired and bequeathed upon generations of people. It was interesting to see the contrast between the genesis of the AK-47 and that of the American response to it, t...more
"The Gun" by CJ Chivers describes the history of automatic firearms from their invention in the 1860's through the end of the Twentieth Century. It focuses largely upon the AK-47, the well known "Kalashnikov" and uses that as the basis for most of its discussion.

The AK family of firearms is probably the most widely distributed firearm in the history of the human race. An estimated 100 million are circulating world wide. Compare that to less than 10 million of the Kalashnikov's nearest competitor...more
Laura Hancock
This book is about the development of the AK-47 in the Soviet Union, its supposed inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov and its proliferation throughout the world. The book was the first military history I've read. It was hard. It took forever, and honestly, some of it was boring. I was a political science, not history, major. So I was more interested in the motives of the leaders of various countries than the tactics of military troops. It's not the book's fault, just a personal preference. The book sta...more
The book is misnamed since it is more a detailed history of rapid firepower than an examination of the shaping of history by one weapon, the AK 47 (as caused by its communist masters attempt to export world revolution). Probably a third of the book is about the Gatling, and that's far too much. As a shooter who is widely read in the subject, the book was interesting but often dull due to over detail exposing the lives and times of inventors in excruciating detail. So the book can read as a histo...more
If you've any doubt a biography of a firearm is worthwhile, Chivers will shortly banish it. The Gun tells the story of the rise of the AK-47* and its enduring role in global events. Chivers provides a broad context for his subject, detailing the history of machine guns in general leading to the Soviet need for a reliable automatic rifle.

It's a tribute to Chivers' ability as a writer that even technical discussions of, for example, bullet calibers, do not slow the pace. He takes you from Richard...more
Doug Vanderweide
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karl Schaeffer
Compelling read. Chiver's not only examines the the story of the AK-47, it's role in the cold war and subsequent brushfire wars, insurrections and terrorism; he traces the history of automatic weapons. Starting with the Gatling gun, Chiver's progresses thru the Maxim and various others including the Tommy gun made popular by the gangsters of Al Capone's day. Chiver notes that while Kalishnikov ostensively developed the gun to defend the Rodina, the AK-47 became noticable on the world stage as th...more
A well written and objective history of automatic weapons starting with the Gatling gun and ending with the AK-47 and M-16. I thought this would be solely about the AK but it goes into much detail on the M-16 jamming debacle as well as Gatling guns and Maxim guns. It proceeds chronologically and Chivers covers all the bases on the eccentric and quirky men who turned their dreams of riches or peace into nightmares for the mass armies and innocents of the world. This book would not only appeal to...more
Shifting gears, let’s put the Buckinghamshire rambles on hold and talk about guns. In particular the AK-47. The ‘bad guy’ gun. Seriously, toting an AK unilaterally puts you on the side of evil, darkness, and/or oppression. The Soviet Union broke it in crushing uprisings in Eastern Europe, child soldiers employ it in Africa, it adorns the flag of Hezbollah, and on and on- every James Bond bad guy ever has tried to off him with the Kalashnikov. As Samuel L. Jackson said: “AK-47. The very best ther...more
This is almost 3 books in one.

Part 1 covers the invention and rise of rapid-fire and automatic-fire weapons with a focus on their creators, mainly Gatling and Maxim. I really enjoyed the historical background of the Victorian period (roughly US Civil War to WWI) and how these creations of industrialism fueled European expansionism.

Part 2 covers the creation of the AK47 itself and the Soviet system that mass-produced the guns and used them as chips in a Cold War game mixing chess, poker, and high...more
Chivers came to my attention as a NYTimes correspondent from Chechnya a few years back and immediately I began looking forward to his reports. The writing was elegant, clear, beautiful. Spotting his first book on the shelf at my local bookshop, without hesitation I bought it. No choice. Why else would I buy a book about the history of the Ak-47? My habit is not typically oriented towards the literature of firearms. Nevertheless, I love Chivers' writing. Clearly this is a different format. It sho...more
It is ironic that the great fear of atomic destruction was the hallmark of the 'Cold War',when in fact the true 'weapon of mass destruction' was to prove to be a simple and crude infantry rifle. The AK-47 rifle (or Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947 as it is formally known)outlasted the Cold War and even the empire that created it.The Soviet Union is no more,a super power people are desperately trying to forget ever existed. But its most famous creation(more well known than even Sputnik or Vodka) c...more

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 weap

Most people have probably heard of the AK-47, but what exactly is it that makes the AK-47 so ubiquitous? In The Gun , C.J. Chivers answers these questions, detailing the history that lead up the production of the AK-47, as well as examining the ramifications.

Among the more intriguing points is that while the Soviet Union credits Kalashnikov with inventing the AK-47 by himself, the true extent of Kalashnikov involvement in the AK-47’s development remains murky. Another noteworthy point is how a...more
The history of technology is seldom follows a straight path, and Chivers depicts the development of automatic small arms fairly well. He does make a distinction between the first "automatic" guns and those rapid loading guns which went before it. He also makes a distinction between automatic rifles and what came to be the intermediate rounds of ammunition between handguns and long range rifles. The centerpiece of the book is the AK-47 and the legacy it has left in the wake of the Cold War that c...more
I had some preconceived notions about this book. When I had read the excerpt in Esquire several years ago I had assumed the entire book was about the U.S. military's effort to field an effective counter to the AK-47 during Viet Nam. "Gun" is more than that, though; it is about the AK and how the assault rifle brought the flesh-shredding capabilities of the rapid-fire machine gun from a crew of three to a single infantryman. The book indeed starts with the Gatling and the man who invented it; he...more
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