The Gun – Book Review

Firstly a disclosure: The publishers of The Gun sent me a free advanced copy. I was thoroughly enjoying the book so I purchased a copy of it for my Kindle, which cost slightly less than the cost of the free hardcover I received. Now onto the review …

I cant’t remember when, where or form whom I heard that Simon & Schuster were planning to publish a book about the AK-47. Not realizing who the author was, I remember thinking that another book on the topic was unnecessary. Frank Iannaminco’s excellent book AK-47: The Grim Reaper already adequately covered just about every AK variant known to mankind. Fortunately, instead of delving into the technical details of the ubiquitous AK-47/74/10x design C.J. Chivers instead tells the story of the background of the modern machine gun1 , the Soviet development of AK-47, the American response2 and the AK’s effects on modern warfare. In fact, only three of the eight chapters deal directly with the AK-47 itself. Chivers explained his reasons for examining the wider context (excerpt from the book’s prologue)…

The significance of the automatic Kalashnikov lies deeper than its origins in Stalin’s Soviet Union, its technical utility as a killing tool, its famed reliability and ease of use, the awesome size of its number or the multiplicity of its meanings—though these themes are all essential. The richer context is this: The automatic Kalashnikov offers a lens for examining the miniaturization and simplification of rapid-fire firearms, a set of processes that when uncoupled from free markets and linked to mass production in the planned economies of opaque or brittle nations, enabled automatic firepower to reach uncountable hands.

The author was the New York Times’s Moscow correspondent and so superbly placed to investigate the history of the AK. I found the real story of Mikhail Kalashnikov particularly fascinating. Unknown to me, many of the stories about Kalashnikov were myths developed by the Soviet propaganda machine and, at times, Kalashnikov himself confirmed these false accounts of his life. The Gun has given me great insight into the man and his recent, puzzling, rants.

I have just two criticism of the book. It would have been nice to find out more about the recent use of diplomatic pressure / blackmail by the Russians in order to suppress the sales of AK clones. The other criticism is that while I am 100% against illegal small arms, unlike the author I don’t believe destroying military surplus small arms would benefit society when they could instead be sold to civilians in whole or as part kits.

I don’t hesitate to say that if you read and enjoy The Firearm Blog, I would be very surprised if The Gun disappointed you. It is packed full of fascinating facts and insights into the history and evolution of firearms. On just about every page I was thinking to myself “this paragraph would make a great blog post”.

Recommendation: Buy – you won’t be sorry.

Amazon Link : The Gun  3

  1. An excerpt of the first chapter “The Birth of Machine Guns” can be read at NPR along with an interview with the author. 

  2. Esquire has published an article adapted from The Gun’s chapter on the M16. 

  3. The is not an affiliate link. In other words, I do not profit from you clicking the link. 

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Harald Hansen

    I’ll be picking this up, for sure. And what’s up with the “this is not an affiliate link” thing? I for one wouldn’t begrudge you a little cut of the profit from Amazon when you review books.

  • Greetings from Texas,
    I may need to look for this one.

  • Have to chose between this book and the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography…both of which are starting at me from the kitchen table. I think this will win, good pre-SHOT material!

  • Josh

    I just got this book in the mail a few days ago and have been reading it. It is a pretty good book so far. Best part about this book is that is isn’t too stuffy. So its an enjoyable read.

  • subase

    As ‘Lord of War’ the film showed, surplus firearms get stolen by gun runners and sold to African kids. He sold the dumped surplus M16’s by the Americans too.

  • I’ve read it as well, but my view of it is not as glowing as yours. I found the prose similar in nature to a required reading text book in college and overall the book is not well organized in terms of its subject matter. As far as I’m concerned the first 100 pages or so were totally needless and without purpose.

    In terms of the Russian sources he never touched upon the political intrigue when it came to replacing the Kalashnikov service rifle within the Soviet/Russian military after it had served for a number of years. I view that as a failure because in a sense he leads the reader astray by failing to mention those who produced designs subsequent to the AK as it aged.

    It’s a decent “gun” book, just not a ‘GREAT’ gun book or a ‘good’ read in my view…

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  • Ed

    It is also worth mentioning that the author was in the U.S. Marines and has recently been reporting from Afghanistan, where he gets to see every flavor of AK.

  • I read it on my Kindle during my vacation. It was fascinating. I was expecting a book about the AK, but got a book on the assault rifle as a whole.

    The parts about Kalashnikov himself were particularly interesting as well as the long chapters about the development and teething difficulties with the AR platform.

    The chapters about the effects of the AK as an agent of change/destabilization were also very interesting.

    I also found this book very well written.

  • Cliff

    “I was thoroughly enjoying the book so I purchased a copy of it for my Kindle, which slightly less than the cost of the free hardcover I received.”

    So, is that to say that they paid you to take the Kindle copy? 🙂

    • Cliff, what it means is I am $15 poorer but what one physical copy and one virtual copy.

  • Erik

    Thanks for the review- I recently bought it and plan to start reading soon.

  • I am about 200 pages into this book. So far so good. Its fascinating to read about the men who created automatic weapons and how armies around the world reacted. Here is another tidbit: even though Maxim and Gatling were American’s, America was about the last “modern” country to adopt them.

    I would guess that if you read this blog you have already read some of CJ’s work. He writes the NY Times At War blog. He got quite a bit of attention for debunking the Afgan Marksman myths.

  • Bryan S

    Im with Mr Hansen… sounds like a good read, and wouldnt mind you getting a cut from telling me so.

  • Armand Heydarian

    It really does surprise me how the author, that knows so much about this firearm can be anti-gun. He knows so much about this firearm, that I don’t even think most firearms enthusiasts even know about.

  • AnOps

    “It really does surprise me how the author, that knows so much about this firearm can be anti-gun. He knows so much about this firearm, that I don’t even think most firearms enthusiasts even know about.” Nothing surprising about this at all. When you see firsthand what happens in countries with no firearms regulation, child soldiers, mass graves, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, you would be anti-gun too. Easy to be be pro-gun in middle class suburbia.

  • Biff

    Even if guns were not present or available, bad people would still cause bad things to happen. If they want to get rid of guns in unstable countries, then they’ll have to get rid of machetes/knives/swords too, and maybe even castrate males so that they cannot use rape as a weapon against women. That slippery slope sure is steep….

    A gun, is a tool. It can be used for good, like defending your family and friends from bad folks, and bad, like robbing and killing people not in your “group”. You can do the same thing with a machete, or any other tool that gives a person an advantage over another.

  • Harald Hansen

    Well, one of life’s lessons is that sometimes educated, well-meaning, intelligent people disagree with one another.

  • Sean Ingram

    I’m a personal acquaintance of Chris Chivers. I think he’s currently in Afghanistan on assignment for the NY Times. He is probably the Times best writer when it comes to actually getting the details correct about military history and battlefield operations. So the guy knows his way around the battlefield. We graduated Ranger School close together, not in the same class but close enough to have known the same instructors. Below is a link to two of his stories, I’ll let you guys determine if he’s worthy of further praise from us.

  • DougF

    Thanks for the review. I’ve just purchased it on the kindle and am a few chapters in.

    So far it’s a great read!

  • Sean Ingram

    About one month ago he did a book reading and signing at the Carter Center in Atlanta; I attended this event and got my copy signed by him. He was somewhat surprised that I deer hunted with my AK but I would say that for now he is probably the most knowledgeable of the modern day authors that write about this great weapon. The marine named Dustin Kirby that he writes about in the NY Times article attended this event also.

  • drdougrx

    I downloaded it on my Kindle….found it to be interesting….but not fascinating. Read half of it through the discussions of how Mr. K came up with the design….went on to other things as this book kinda drones on….it’s a good read if you can stay focused.