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The Gun by C.J. Chivers

The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War

By C.J. Chivers

Simon & Schuster; 457 pages

The soviet union may have been consigned to "the ash heap of history," as President Reagan foretold, but its trademark weapon--the AK-47 Kalashnikov, now 60 years old--remains the firearm of choice for militaries, militants and mercenaries. In The Gun, former Marine and New York Times correspondent Chivers writes a paean to the planet's most ubiquitous small arm. There may be as many as 100 million of them around the world--one for every 70 people. Chivers tells the AK-47's story as a Tolstoyan epic, painstakingly detailing Mikhail Kalashnikov's invention of a lightweight, jam-resistant, banana-magazined assault rifle and its adoption by the Red Army. He then shows how the gun spread like a fever across East bloc nations and into the arms and arsenals of radicals, revolutionaries and Osama bin Laden. Already manufactured in more than a dozen countries, the weapon appears to have a bright future. With Venezuela planning to construct its own AK-47 factory, the Kalashnikov's story is anything but spent.