The Gun

  • by C. J. Chivers
  • Narrated by Michael Prichard
  • 18 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

It is the world's most widely recognized weapon, the most profuse tool for killing ever made. More than 50 national armies carry the automatic Kalashnikov, as do an array of police, intelligence, and security agencies all over the world. In this tour de force, prizewinning New York Times reporter C. J. Chivers traces the invention of the assault rifle, following the miniaturization of rapid-fire arms from the American Civil War, through World War I and Vietnam, to present-day Afghanistan, when Kalashnikovs and their knockoffs number as many as 100 million, one for every 70 persons on earth.
It is the weapon of state repression, as well as revolution, civil war, genocide, drug wars, and religious wars; and it is the arms of terrorists, guerrillas, boy soldiers, and thugs. It was the weapon used to crush the uprising in Hungary in 1956. American Marines discovered in Vietnam that the weapon in the hands of the enemy was superior to their M16s. Fidel Castro amassed them. Yasir Arafat procured them for the P.L.O. A Kalashnikov was used to assassinate Anwar Sadat. As Osama bin Laden told the world that "the winds of faith and change have blown," a Kalashnikov was by his side. Pulled from a hole, Saddam Hussein had two Kalashnikovs.
It is the world's most widely recognized weapon - cheap, easy to conceal, durable, deadly. But where did it come from? And what does it mean? Chivers, using a host of exclusive sources and declassified documents in the east and west, as well as interviews with and the personal accounts of insurgents, terrorists, child soldiers, and conventional grunts, reconstructs through the Kalashnikov the evolution of modern war. Along the way, he documents the experience and folly of war and challenges both the enduring Soviet propaganda surrounding the AK-47 and many of its myths.


What the Critics Say

"Eye-opening.... An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history." (Kirkus)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A compelling book about much more than guns!

This book is a compelling review of how man's technology for killing each other has shaped history over the last 140 years, and how entrenched thinking has been far more deadly than the weapons of war. As a hardcore firearms enthusiast, I hoped the book would be a history of the most influential gun of all time, the AK-47 family of shoulder-fired military arms. What I found was much, much more, including a commentary on how the development and deployment of the weapons of war reflect the best and worst of human nature and our institutions of government. Has there ever been anything so deadly as short-term thinking, greed, and manipulative self-interest? Not according to this book, which weaves history, biography, political commentary, and philosophy into a single retrospective on political history over the last 140 years. Always thought-provoking and even-handed, the author neither glorifies nor villifies the guns in question. Rather, he examines the development, use and deployment of guns as the tangible extension of political and economic influences that shape the course of history.

This book was certainly not what I expected. It was much, much more. I was unable to put it down. Having come of age in the Viet Nam era, I was horrified to learn of how the badly-flawed M-16 was developed, marketed, foisted upon the US military by Robert McNamara and his chronies, even though it was wholy unsuited to the work at hand. It was chilling to read how many lives were lost because our troops had been equipped with guns that would jam and fail with terrifying predictability. I was outraged to read of the political cover-up that blamed the problems with the guns on the troops in the field, whose lives depended on them.

While the legend of the AK 47 is shown to be at least as much PR as history, it nonetheless showed that the smug, self-congratulatory attitude of superiority we cultivate in the West, is not so well-deserved. A great read; highly recommended!
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- Edward

Should Be Three Books

The title of this book should be pluralized. It is really a textbook on the development of automatic weapons in general rather than a history of the AK 47/74. Only about 1/3 of the book is specifically about the AK 47. Very interesting but strays a little far afield at times. The narrator, Michael Prichard takes some getting used to, but is ok. That said, The Gun is interesting and worth the time investment.
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- Lindsay

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-12-2010
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio