Review: The Gun


I had an excellent conversation this morning with Chris Chivers of the New York Times about his new book reviewing the history and legacy of the Automatic Kalashnikov-47.

I'll include a link to the entire interview with CJ Chivers (which is downloadable for posting on other blogs if you wish) right here in the post and you can also look at the previous post and simply click "play" to listen right there.

But I promised Chris I would deliver some impressions of the book as a sort of "review," so here we go.

Let me just preface this by saying I semi agree with the camp that says if you were blind folded and told you'd be parachuted into a combat zone that you had no idea about and could choose only one rifle to take with you, the safest bet would be the AK-47. I have a mad scientist former private security contractor who's been to a lot of weird places who says he'd deploy with nothing else.

Well, I have to tell you, after reading The Gun, I'm sticking to my guns. As Chivers outlines in the meticulously researched book, the AK-47 is indestructible, its ammo is plentiful, it's deadly and it puts a lot of power in the hands of even the most meagerly trained individuals like myself.

Aside from the whole AK-47 argument, though, the book itself is an intriguing history into the world that lead to the AK-47, the Soviet manufacture and distribution of the rifle and America's attempt to counter it's impact on the battlefield. If I had a criticism of the book I'd say it's a bit too long (I had to start really skimming to get through it in order to prepare for my interview) and it spends an awful lot of time on the Gatling gun and Maxim machine gun (almost 200 of the book's 496 pages) that felt a little like padding it out. I get the context Chivers is trying to create, but I'm suspicious that his publisher asked him to stretch that part out to get to a certain length. Pure speculation...

A Kit Up! reader critisized the work for its pedestrian nature:

Obviously written by a reporter that did not appear to be either a a gun nut, gun guy or even a gun owner/frequent shooter. A lot of his information was second/third hand opinion of someone else.

This book was not written for knowledgeable gun people. It states the obvious...

I can see how the commenter would think that, of course, since so many Kit Up! readers are indeed gun enthusiasts and operators who know a lot about the intricacies of firearms. But that's where I find the greatest strength in The Gun. It's written for the NPR crowd by someone (arguably) from their clan (working for the NYT) in hopes of demystifying this revolutionary symbol they associate with Che Guevara t-shirts and third-world despots. Chivers spent eight years researching and writing The Gun and he has the professionalism to tell the story in a language understandable to everyone.

Chivers forced me to retract my statement during the lead in to the show that he was a "sort of gun expert." He admits that he's done a lot of reporting on guns, talked to a lot of fighters who use them and researched the history of firearms, but it's not like Col. Doug Tamilio at PEO Soldier Weapons is ringing his phone off the hook with a job offer.

If you're into the caliber debate, want to relive the ill-fated rush to field the M-16, are a student of the civil war, World War II and the Cold War, like the M-14 better than the AK-47, like the AK-47 better than the M-14, are a student of the inner workings of Soviet economic planning and international revolutions or are intrigued by how something as simple as a rifle gets from paper to palm, The Gun has something in it for you.

Would I buy The Gun as a Christmas present for my mother-in-law ? No. But would I get it for my buddy who likes history and guns but gets blurry-eyed reading a "Janes All The World's Firearms" tome after about five minutes? Absolutely.

In the end, The Gun is a story about an iconic rifle that needed telling. It's well written, somewhat entertaining and vastly illuminating. And it's written by a great friend of Kit Up!, a shit hot war correspondent for the New York Times and a former Marine infantry officer who has the gift of being able to tell a gritty, blood-soaked story with a silken prose that could turn even a West Village socialite into an overnight gun nut. 

Be sure to listen to our interview with CJ Chivers on Kit Up's "Boots on the Ground" podcast.

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