The Gun by C. J. Chivers

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Synopsis

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.
 

About C. J. Chivers

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C. J. Chivers is a senior writer for the "New York Times" and its former Moscow bureau chief. He received a shared Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2009 for coverage in Afghanistan.
 
Published October 12, 2010 by Simon & Schuster. 498 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War, Professional & Technical, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Gun

The New York Times

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The Times’s C. J. Chivers examines the six-decade history of the AK-47, the world’s most ubiquitous automatic rifle.

Dec 02 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

The New York Times

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A New York Times correspondent examines the six-decade history of the crude but devastatingly effective AK-47, the world’s most ubiquitous automatic rifle.

Oct 29 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

Publishers Weekly

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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—in

Feb 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Gun

The Wall Street Journal

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Sheer numbers have made the AK-47 the world's primary tool for killing

Oct 16 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

Los Angeles Times

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Reviewing the deadly history and legends surrounding the Soviet-invented AK-47 assault rifle.

Nov 26 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

The Telegraph

This televised attack ushered in a new role for the weapon .

Nov 07 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

Dallas News

By TOM DODGE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News Author and radio commentator Tom Dodge lives in Midlothian.

Oct 10 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

Jacksonville.com

Chivers explains how this weapon was profusely copied, and, "when the nations that made them lost custody of them," the AK-47 eventually evolved into "everyman's gun," the choice of revolutionaries, "thugs, bandits, child soldiers and a host of others ..."

Dec 12 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

St. Louis Today

That's a long way behind the AK-47 and its variants, which.

Nov 21 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

Marine Corps Gazette

In sum, although this book may not be appropriate for the bookshelf of a Marine Corps recruiting office (given some of the history contained therein), The Gun should be required reading for Marines who endeavor to fully understand the causes for the inception, evolution, and proliferation of the ...

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The Truth About Guns

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Dec 07 2010 | Read Full Review of The Gun

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