Modern Warfare Through the Gunsight THE GUN: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War. By C.J. Chivers. Simon and Schuster, New York, ISBN 9780743270762, 461 pp. $28.00 (Member $25.20)

Seemingly limitless books and articles exist about the Kalashnikov AK-47. One might happen upon several in the bargain books section of the typical local bookstore, and these books are often filled with glossy pictures and technical drawings. The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War, by CJ. Chivers, is not for the casual page turning picture lover. The Gun is for disciplined and devoted scholars of the history of modern war, politics, and ideology, and how the automatic weapon has forced the transformation of the essence of combat. The Gun provides scholars and professionals in arms an in-depth education regarding the automatic weapons effect on modern combat tactics.

The Gun is a colossal effort by the author to fully contextualize the Kalashnikov rifle, from the circumstances that led to the invention of the first machineguns, their evolution, and on to their inevitable miniaturization and mass proliferation. CJ. Chivers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author, and former United States Marine officer, appears to have created a history-laced masterpiece relating to the causality of automatic weapons in war and the most influential of them, the AK-47.

The Gun is arranged in three chapters – the birth of machineguns, the development and impact of the AK47, and the Kalashnikov’s dreadful global impact. Through painstaking research, Chivers not only explains the technology of the weapons of the times, but also the sociological, economic, and political forces that established the cause. The Gun is almost entirely based on historically documented facts, but in cases where Chivers finds the record vague or incomplete, he informs the reader of all of the possibilities surrounding a given event or account. In these places Chivers does not attempt conjecture but rather reflects on parallel and tangent lines with available evidence and personal accounts. It comes as little surprise that the full story of the Kalashnikov, having been born of the Soviet Union, is riddled with deception or outright lies.

Readers should be forewarned that they will be educated in circles that far exceed the AK-47, which is not to say that the full analysis of the AK-47, in and of itself, is not a massive undertaking. Contained herein is also the sorrowful and humiliating juxtaposition of the procurement and early combat performance of the M-16 rifle in Vietnam. Given the nature of the subject, The Gun does not attempt at any time to create warm and comforting feelings in the heart of the reader as to the effects that automatic weapons have had on humanity, with emphasis on the AK-47 and its clones. The author illuminates the personal motivations of the inventors, the bureaucracies and political forces, and the horrible toll these weapons have taken on human history.

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 assault rifle. This book will provide much greater depth to one’s understanding of the nearly infinite complexity of the assault rifle, for not only what it is, but also for what it truly means. Chances are that many follow-on generations of Marines will face the Kalashnikov in battle (as most of us have).

Chivers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author, and former United States Marine officer, appears to have created a history-laced masterpiece relating to the causality of automatic weapons in war and the most influential of them, the AK-47. Given the nature of the subject, The Gun does not attempt at any time to create warm and comforting feelings in the heart of the reader as to the effects that automatic weapons have had on humanity, with emphasis on the AK-47 and its clones.

Reprinted with permission from and copyright retained by Marine Corps Gazette. Please visit http://www.mca-marines.org/gazette

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