Larry Kahaner

AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War (Wiley, 2007)



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“A chilling and perversely entertaining look at the dark side of innovation.” —BusinessWeek


“A detail-rich combat history, the book also offers a compelling human story of its inventor.” — Macleans Magazine

“A fascinating examination.” — Library Journal

“…a must-read for all firearms buffs.” — Military Book Club

“During the past half century, the AK-47 assault rifle has established itself as the most ubiquitous implement of destruction on the planet. No other gun comes close for its durability, low price, ease of operation, and sheer killing power. It has become a mainstay of armies and terrorists alike, and a universal icon of revolutionary upheaval. Larry Kahaner’s book is the best history of this weapon that I have seen. AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the World will appeal to anyone who has ever watched the History Channel – or the evening news.” –Max Boot, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Savage Wars of Peace

“Anyone who has fought or watched a war over the last half-century recognizes the AK-47, but few know much about it. Kahaner traces the rifle’s role in wars from Vietnam to Iraq and from Central America to Central Africa. A fascinating biography of a weapon that has truly changed world history.” –Stephen Kinzer, author of Overthrow

“…highly readable, and thought-provoking work.” — Strategy Page

“Kahaner’s writing talents are obvious. He keeps the book from becoming a highly technical read as he traces the rifle, which he calls the real weapon of mass destruction, through history, all the way to the streets of Baghdad, Iraq.” — McClatchy Newspapers

“All of the magnificence and horror of Kalashnikov’s weapon comes through in a taunt narrative that makes Kahaner’s book easy to read and hard to put down.” — Soldiers for the Truth

“… well researched and intelligently written book.” — Michael Yon




What does AK-47 stand for?

AK-47 stands for ‘Automatic Kalashnikov – 1947’ for the inventor Mikhail T. Kalashnikov and the year it was first produced 1947.

How many have been made?
Nobody really knows. The number probably is between 75 and 100 million worldwide. Since an AK can last for decades, we don’t know how many are currently in service.

Why is it so popular?
Despite its low price and often shoddy workmanship, this powerful rifle rarely jams, is almost indestructible and is easy to fire with no training. It is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to turn a farmer, teacher, peasant or even a teenager into an effective killing machine. It is not very accurate but can fire about 600 rounds per minute. Many western military experts consider it a piece of junk. Some US soldiers prefer the AK especially in Iraq where dust tends to jam their M-16 rifles but does not affect the AK.

What has been its effect on world history?
The AK has shifted the balance of power in warfare by allowing small determined factions, not just armies, to overthrow entire governments. For example, Charles Taylor, proved this in 1989 when he and a rag-tag cadre of 100 men armed mainly with AK-47s, stormed the presidential palace in Liberia and controlled the country for the next six years. By issuing AKs to anyone who swore allegiance to the new regime, Taylor stayed in power with gangs of thug soldiers, all of whom were allowed to pillage their defeated enemies as payment for their loyalty. The other main impact is that cheap AK can keep small hot regional wars going for years. This is often the case in Africa and South America.

Where is the AK made?
More than 20 countries currently produce it, many of which are former Soviet bloc nations like Bulgaria and Rumania. China is the world’s largest producer of AKs. There are dozens of different versions and names but they are all the same basic design with the signature banana-shaped magazine.

How many legitimate armies use the AK or its variants?
About 50 standing armies use the AK including those of China, Egypt, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Why do terrorists prefer the AK to any other weapons?
For the same reasons that legitimate armies like it. The gun is cheap, easy to use, easy to obtain and effective in the hands of poorly trained fighters. Osama Bin Laden had called the AK the terrorists’ most important weapon.

How much does an AK cost?
In some parts of the world, it can be purchased for as little as US$10, leading to its nickname, “The Ten Dollar Weapon of Mass Destruction” because it kills more people than any other single weapon. In most places, however, an AK can be bought for $100 to $300 depending upon the level of hostilities in the area. As conflicts heat up in a region, prices rise.

Why has it become a cultural icon?
AKs are seen in art, movies, video games and even in fashion because it has become an anti-establishment symbol. It is seen on the coins and flags of several countries including Mozambique and also on the flag of terrorist group Hezbollah.

What about the inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov?
The late Kalashnikov acted as a celebrity spokesman at trade shows for Russian arms makers using his cult status to bring attention to their weapons. He had not made a cent from his invention but had hoped to cash in on a brand of vodka to which he had licensed his name. The vodka is still being sold.

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