More than a techie-manual, this book is the remarkable story of a tool’s effect on modern society…
A very readable history; not just of the AK47, but o...moreMore than a techie-manual, this book is the remarkable story of a tool’s effect on modern society…
A very readable history; not just of the AK47, but of infantry weaponry in general. Chivers walks the reader through the international development of automatic weapons, beginning in the US Civil War era with the Gatling gun through WWI and the German army’s devastating use of the Maxim machinegun, a weapon that continued to be misunderstood and misused by their counterparts in the British and American armies for years to come. This lack of understanding and obstinate adherence to outdated, unimaginative battlefield tactics had a dramatic effect on the readiness of the US army as it approached military operations in later conflicts.
Chivers’ descriptions of the revolutionary weapons designs that preceded the AK47 are fascinating from both a technical and historical perspective. He describes the foresight and engineering prowess of German (Nazi) and Soviet tacticians to envision and develop the Sturmgewehr/assault rifle concept in the latter days of the Second World War. With a perspective that would lead to tragic consequences decades later, the Western Powers, lead ignominiously by the US military, held a universally poor opinion of the weapon, both as a design and a finished product. The US military classified the weapon as a submachine gun of crude design and poor finish, a weapon not worthy of serious consideration by a modern army. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s, with America’s burgeoning involvement in Southeast Asia, that the US military realized the value of the AK47 and bemoaned their lack of a similar infantry weapon. The robust simplicity of the Kalashnikov was a tremendous asset to the otherwise relatively primitive and poorly equipped armies of communist North Vietnam, an asset the NVA used effectively throughout the conflict.
Chivers dedicates a significant portion of the book to the tragic story of the US’s development of the M16 battle rifle, the weapon that the US military desperately wanted to be America’s answer to the AK47. Though the M16 and its descendents later became robust and effective infantry and special tactics weapons, the rifle’s early versions were horrifyingly unreliable and likely contributed greatly to the death and injury of countless military personnel. The US military/industrial complex displayed an appalling disregard for the lives of American soldiers and marines, sending them into battle with a poorly understood, malfunctioning weapon that was essentially still under development. This part of the book is truly not easy to read…
One of Chivers’ most interesting theses is consideration of the assault rifle in general and the AK47 in particular as a tool of social change. He describes the evolution of automatic military-style weapons from a barely mobile thousand-pound possession of the state to a compact automatic that could be mastered by an individual of virtually any physical stature. A small number of soldiers armed only with AK47-style weapons could (and have…) effectively engaged better equipped forces of much larger number. And with the fall of the Soviet Empire, millions of those weapons wound up in the hands of "citizen soldiers" around the world…
Chivers also writes about Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Soviet soldier-hero and “inventor” of the AK47 family of infantry weapons. He describes the fascinating combination of mythology and secrecy surrounding the development of the AK47 and the cultural need for a hero of humble origins to succeed in the Soviet system.
Good, good stuff for the military history geek. (less)
This volume continues to be the most complete history of the WWII Leningrad blockade, even though it was published in 1968. Harrison Salisbury was aff...moreThis volume continues to be the most complete history of the WWII Leningrad blockade, even though it was published in 1968. Harrison Salisbury was afforded remarkable access to extensive Soviet historical archival material, significant military figures, as well as individual civilians that had lived through the seige. I'm actually curious if, with the increased accessablity of Soviet-era historical information, there is more information published on this amazing event...
Mr. Salisbury's research, interviews, and composition took place in that odd historical period between the end of the Stalin regime in 1953 and the return of a more repressive rule in the Brezhnev era commencing in 1968. During that 15 year period, it became almost "OK" to be critical of Stalin and his minions, including myriad senior officers from the recently-purged Soviet Army. And apparently there was a lot blame to go around for the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, beginning with Stalin! Without any Soviet/Russian historical "reckoning" for the Siege of Leningrad and the resultant political backlash of the "Leningrad Affair", the historical and cultural insights afforded to Mr. Salisbury were remarkable (in any Soviet era). I doubt that the overall conclusions drawn by Mr. Salisbury would have been supportable by Soviet leaders, Brezhnev and beyond (maybe Gorbachov...?). The fact that the book was never published in the Soviet Union (though a Russian language version was published in the West and commonly smuggled into the USSR) is certainly a reflection of the official Soviet line...
Overall a marvelous book on an amazing period of world history.(less)
A fascinating, readable history of a largely forgotten (or ignored...) military conflict as well as a pivitol time in US political history. Halberstam...moreA fascinating, readable history of a largely forgotten (or ignored...) military conflict as well as a pivitol time in US political history. Halberstam examines the major political and military figures involved in the conflict: American, Korean, Chinese, Soviet; his insights on the myriad characters and politics of the era are truly enlightening.
Halberstam spends a significant (and gratifying) amount of time breaking down the technical aspects of key military battles within the overall strategic structure of the war. His explanations of troop strengths, equipment, and techniques employed by the combatants gives the reader an excellent "feel" for the experiences of those involved. His use of personal interviews with American soldiers invoved in the war wonderfully illustrates the horrific conditions and continual frustrations they experienced throughout the conflict. It was a horrible war of attrition in a place that the major protagonists (America, China, USSR) neither wanted nor needed geographically, but was considered paramount politically. It was truly America's introduction to the "responsiblities" of becoming a political and military world power.
My only beef: Only three pages and one lousy map on the US Marine Corps' retreat from Chosin Reservoir?! And most of that was discussion of the US military command structure. Surely one of the hardest fought battles in American military history deserves more than that.
But I guess that just means I need to read another book...(less)
An interesting commentary on the twisted family linkages and personal relationships of the European royal families in the 19th century and up to the c...moreAn interesting commentary on the twisted family linkages and personal relationships of the European royal families in the 19th century and up to the conclusion of WWI. I enjoy these types of books because they inspire me to read more about historical figures discussed in the text. Queen Victoria, the "supernatural" machinations of the Russian royal family, Count Phillip zu Eulenburg and the sensational Imperial German homosexual trials of 1907... yeah, I've got a lot more books to find.
A fascinating non-fiction "novel" written in a disturbingly graphic style. Urrea attempts to provide voice to the participants in a tragic walk across...moreA fascinating non-fiction "novel" written in a disturbingly graphic style. Urrea attempts to provide voice to the participants in a tragic walk across the Arizona desert, an event notable only for the total number of fatalities (Yuma 14). The "pollos" are dying every day; it just so happened that 14 of them died on the same trip.
Overall, a quick and fascinating read. A sometimes creepily voyeuristic glimpse of the grist that ultimately feeds the economic mill of a large segment of the US economy...(less)
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but because of the writing style, it didn't blow me out of the water...
The narrative takes place primarily in post WWII...moreOverall, I enjoyed this book, but because of the writing style, it didn't blow me out of the water...
The narrative takes place primarily in post WWII America. The political and social landscape is greatly influenced and shaped by America's emergence as a military and political world power as well as the "hive mentality" communist/Soviet paranoia (which later morphed into the McCarthy-dominated House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings (HCUA)). That social environment bred a climate that ultimately resulted in the nationwide implementation of draconian community-imposed (and later industry-imposed) content requirements for comic books as well as grotesquely staged mass burnings of books not meeting those standards.
Author Hadju had the remarkable benefit of having access and interviewing a phenomenal number of publishers, writers, and artists directly involved in the comic book "purgings" and its aftermath. The events having taken place in the relatively recent past provided the author the opportunity to speak to living historical participants to supplement the existing written records.
That access was both a strength and a weakness to his text. The extensive anecdotal interviews were plentiful almost to the point of tedium. That said, it was quite interesting to read the commentary of such industry luminaries as Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, ad nauseam. Unless one is a certified comic historian/geek (and I may well qualify...) it's almost too much.
But, after all that, still very much worth the time to read!(less)
A very readable and enjoyable book. Though remarkably broad in scope, the level of detail is somewhat sparse at times.
Along with documenting the huge...moreA very readable and enjoyable book. Though remarkably broad in scope, the level of detail is somewhat sparse at times.
Along with documenting the huge undertaking of creating a treaty to encompass all of Europe, the book is full of fascinating anecdotes on the personal lives of the many of the congress' participants. It has prompted me to track down several more detailed volumes on Talleyrand, Tsar Alexander, Lord Castleragh, and Napoleon simply to get clarity on that chaotic and tumultuos period.
On a whinier note, the lack of maps, illustrating the geographic divisions of the time, was a bit frustrating. Keeping up with the Germanic kingdoms alone is challenging...
A wonderfully readable book on maritime/US naval history. A primer on the political scene during America's formative years as well as a masterful rete...moreA wonderfully readable book on maritime/US naval history. A primer on the political scene during America's formative years as well as a masterful retelling of America's rousing naval victories at the commencement of the War of 1812. If you have an appreciation for Patrick O'Brian's prose, you will love this book. In fact, author Ian Toll excerpts O'Brian's "The Fortune of War" to describe the USS Constitution's sinking of the HMS Java. You'll feel right at home... Good, good, good stuff.(less)
Quick and fascinating reading. As much an indictment of the early days of the American medical community and the intelligence of Americans in general...moreQuick and fascinating reading. As much an indictment of the early days of the American medical community and the intelligence of Americans in general as it is an indictment of the frauds who took advantage of both...(less)