Cromulent Book of the Week: Merchant of Death

Merchant of Death

Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible, Douglas Farah & Stephen Braun, 2007In the 1990’s, Viktor Bout, an obscure former Russian military officer, became one of the greatest illicit arms dealers in history. Not just small arms and ammo, but explosives, rocket launchers, attack helicopters, and all manner of destruction were available to those with money, and with astronomical profits from blood diamonds to illicit drugs, dictators, revolutionaries, and terrorists had millions to spend.

What made Bout so effective was his access to the stockpiles of the recently defunct USSR and his incredible delivery network. He was quite simply the Amazon and UPS of arms procurement. Bout sold to anyone with money and in many conflicts sold weapons to both sides; in most cases he made no secret to his customers that he sold arms to their enemy. With the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, US forces came to rely on men like Bout to deliver much-needed supplies for reconstruction efforts; his shady dealings were known but overlooked.

In The Gun, the previous Cromulent Book of the Week, C.J. Chivers lays out the development of the AK-47 and why the state-run economy of the Soviet Union necessitated the sheer number of AK’s built, free from the restraints of supply and demand. Merchant of Death, continues that story, revealing the emergence of shady entrepreneurs, like Bout, in the aftermath of the Cold War, who provide the means of death, destruction, and instability in conflicts large and small across the globe. Look no further than the disaster unfolding in Yemen for proof.

Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, & the Man Who Makes War Possible is available in paperback and digital from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Cromulent Book of the Week: The Gun

The Gun by C.J. Chivers

The Gun by C.J. Chivers.The Gun is one of my favorite books of all time. C.J. Chivers, a former Marine infantry officer and now a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, traces the often obscured origin of the infamous AK-47 assault rifle. The Gun is not a technical overview of the weapon, as Chivers makes clear in the introduction, but a social history of the weapon.

The automatic Kalashnikov offers a lens for examining the miniaturization and simplification of rapid-fire firearms, a set of processes that when uncoupled from free markets and linked to mass production in the planned economies of opaque and brittle nations, enabled automatic firepower to reach uncountable hands.

You do not need to be versed in small arms or even particularly interested in weaponry to enjoy this book. Chivers illuminates not only the development of the weapon and its creator, but also its proliferation and its immense and varied symbolism.

It’s available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

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