Sunday, August 7, 2011
Book Review: The Gun by CJ Chivers
Two histories have recently come out about the AK-47. Larry Kahaner's book and CJ Chivers' book. I read this LGM Review and decided on the later.
Chivers' book is more a history of automatic weapons in general and then focusing in on why the AK-47 was so successful. There is a large section in there about the M-16's early teething problems that will make your blood boil (the blame for which he places squarely on Colt's greed and the DoD's incompetence). There have been approximately 100 million units of AK-family weapons produced; the M-1 Carbine, the most produced weapon of WWII only had 6 million units built. The AK is "so easy a child can use it... and they do".
Chivers is a good writer. He's won a few Pulitzers while working for the NY Times in Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia during the South Ossetian War. He served as a Marine in the first Gulf War. He knows weapons inside and out. I love his explanation of how an engineer must juggle compromises to reach his design. He's a fantastic researcher (the notes section is extensive and has a few funny little stories). One of my favorite stories comes from the Civil War. There were several draft riots in New York. During one, a mob marched down the street to burn down the New York Times. Now, you normally think of the NY Times as a Democratic Party paper and incredibly 'anti-gun,' but in the Civil War, the NY Times was ardently Republican and the editor in chief personally manned the hand-crank of one of three Gatling guns. The editor was not about to let HIS paper get ransacked. He had the 1st story covered in wet newspaper and stared down the protesters over the barrel of a gun. The mob took one look at that editor and decided to burn down another abolitionist newspaper (the New York Tribune) instead.
One of the coolest things about the book is the binding. For about $10 on Amazon, you get a nicely bound hardback. The pages are nice and thick and have a good texture to it. The coolest part is the cover. It has a set of grains to it and when you pick the book up just the right way, it feels like the foregrip of an AK.
My biggest gripe about the book was the photographs. Only about half of them follow the book, while the rest seem like a random allotment from a stockphoto site. I know that Chivers could have done better. He has an awesome blog with all sorts of great photos he's taken in war zones. Check out this post on Rebel Graffiti of Muamar Qadafi.