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The Gun that Changed the World

The Gun that Changed the World

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Elena Joly (With), Andrew Brown (Translated by)

ISBN: 978-0-745-63691-7 October 2006 Polity 224 Pages


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The Russian word that is most frequently spoken throughout the world isn't Lenin, gulag or perestroika, it’s ‘Kalashnikov’. The reason for this is simple: there are 80 million Kalashnikovs in circulation on five continents. Once invented, the AK-47 assault rifle became the most widely used weapon in the world: from Vietnam to Palestine, from Cuba to Iraq, it was at the heart of conflicts and struggles everywhere. It is the only firearm that has ever been depicted on a national flag – that of Mozambique, where it symbolizes liberation.

Mikhail Kalashnikov himself, who was born in 1919, here tells his life story, with the help of Elena Joly, for the first time: his deportation to Siberia with his family while still a child; his time as a soldier in a tank regiment; his invention of the world’s most famous weapon and his turbulent life under Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. This is a remarkable portrait of a man of ingenuity and vitality in the context of the often frightening and terribly unforgiving Russia of the twentieth century.


Foreword to English edition: The history and workings of the AK-47.

Preface – The Terror and the Glory.

1. Treading a path of pain and sorrow.

Son of a kulak.

Farewell to Siberia.

2. ‘Arise, great country! Arise to mortal fight!’

The last but one.

My university – the hospital.

'You must help Sergeant Kalashnikov!'

3. The birth of the AK.

The 'Mikhim' dossier.

'Up until 2025, and even beyond….'

4. A unique weapon.

The standardization of firearms.

One more step.

5. 'He was a god, he might rise again.'

Daily life of a deputy in the Supreme Soviet.

Behind the walls of the Kremlin.

6. 'At home and abroad.'


Better late than never.

7. Odds and ends.



Biographical details.

Select bibliography and filmography.


"This intruiging autobiography opens doors on life in the once closed military town of Izhevsk, and provides revealing insights into the not-so-closed mind of a Soviet gunmaker."
Times Literary Supplement

"A commanding portrait of a man who lived through the best and worst treatment at the hands of the Soviet regime."

"Mikhail Kalashnikov's autobiography is an intriguing look into the life and mind of a self-taught weapons designer who believed in what he did and for whom he did it. In plain language, this simple man straightforwardly tells of the adversity he surmounted as a youth to achieve the pinnacle of success as an adult. Though he ascribes the success in his life to fate, his innate vision and talent for the mechanics of weapon design show through unmistakably. A Stalinist, communist and patriot to the end, his life story is a valuable lens through with to view the history of the USSR and Russia from revolution to the present."
Roger Reese, Texas A&M University

"Mikhail Kalashnikov’s 'assault rifle' bridged the gap between the slow but accurate rifle and the fast but inaccurate sub-machine gun, and thus brought us – in the 1940s – to the point where armies still stand today. Readers of this delightful book will wonder why he ever bothered. Purged by Stalin and exiled to Siberia as a boy, Kalashnikov later accepted the Stalin Prize for his work on the AK-47. This fascinating book is an enthralling journey into the Soviet arsenal and mind."
Geoffrey Wawro, University of North Texas

"This book has pace, passion and a number of unusual insights into the weird mindset of at least one section of the Soviet ruling classes. It is a human story: a 'rags to riches' or 'poor boy makes good' story – and occasionally even a tear-jerker. It also contains some pretty good jokes."
Paddy Griffith, freelance military historian and publisher

  • This is the autobiography of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the world’s most famous gun, the AK-47.
  • Offers a fascinating history of the weapon’s development and spread throughout the world, as well as a window into the turbulent history of Russian in the twentieth century.
  • Contains over 30 halftones.
  • Will appeal to both the general interested reader, as well as students and scholars of military history.