C.J. Chivers is a former Marine officer and war correspondent. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2017 for his piece about a Marine’s journey home after combat, entitled ‘The Fighter.’ I saw this book a few years ago and wanted to read it but, like most books, it went to the back burner as newer and shiner books popped up. Then Chivers won the Pulitzer and I put the book on hold at the library.
The Gun is, mostly, a history of the AK-47, which is probably the most famous gun in the world. In telling that history, Chivers writes about the history of machine guns as a whole. I didn’t expect that but I’m glad he did as it really helped me appreciate how the AK-47 became so influential and important. During my lifetime, the AK-47 has always been ubiquitous as the weapon of choice for bad guys, real and fictional, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Skipping ahead to the namesake of the book, the Kalishnikov rifle was invented in 1947, hence the moniker. It was built by a Sergeant in the Soviet Army and won a national contest. It was designed to be easy to operate with minimal experience. It was basically built to work no matter what. The internal workings of the rifle are fitted loosely and move around somewhat freely. This allows it to keep working even in austere conditions. That fact, combined with its low cost to produce and acquire, are a big contributors to the proliferation of the the weapon. The other major factor was the dissolution of the Soviet Union which maintained large stocks of AK-47s in its border territories which sold the weapons freely on the open market.
I found the most interesting part of this book was that one of the first machine gun inventors, Richard J. Gatling of Gatling Gun fame, believed that the guns would lead to peace as humanity would prefer to value life in the face of such, at the time, advanced weaponry.