AK47: The Story of the People’s Gun (3 stars)


AK47: The Story of the People’s Gun (Sceptre)


This is a horrible book and an astounding read, covering the inventor of the AK47, General Mikhail Kalashnikov, Sudanese child soldiers, American rappers and Islamic terrorists. Michael Hodges recounts its shifting cultural significance in a narrative that is unrelentingly violent and grim.

In his quest to install the AK47 as a cultural symbol, Hodges tracks it through a remarkable series of incarnations: it is a Hollywood scene stealer; the ‘Coca Cola of small arms’; a symbol of resistance, struggle, anti-US imperialism, rebellion and independence; an image exploited most notoriously by Osama bin Laden; a signifier of manhood, respect, power and celebration (most commonly, weddings); and an African cry of despair: ‘Kalash’. Though Putin gifted Bush a bottle shaped like an AK47, attempts to rebrand it as vodka have been largely unsuccessful. The gun’s use, like that of any weapon, is testament to globally endemic violence, far more than to any symbolic significance, a point Hodges makes abundantly clear.

(Katie Gould)

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