First Person Singular: Larry Kahaner

Larry Kahaner, journalist and author of a new book on the AK 47.

[Web Administrator Notes: There are new updates to this profile, indicated throughout]

1. How do you describe what you do for a living?

I am a journalist, plain and simple. I believe in the adage that what ‘they’ don’t want you to write is journalism; everything else is publicity. I used to work in newspapers and magazines (Knight–Ridder, BusinessWeek) but as they became more corporate, less independent and the news hole got smaller I decided I wanted to write books. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and have published nine books. Yes, I still write for magazines, newspapers and the web on a freelance basis but books are my passion because you can delve deeply into a topic and give it the attention it deserves.

2. What inspired you to undertake this work?

I have a gift of seeing patterns. It’s what helps me be a journalist. I kept seeing this one particular weapon - the AK-47 – and wondering why it was everywhere. Osama Bin Laden is always shown with it in the background, the insurgents in Iraq are always pointing it up in the air defiantly and it was all over footage of the middle east conflict. Once I noticed this, it became like a word you just learned; you notice it everywhere. I was also curious how it had become a cultural icon because I saw it on graffiti, posters even woven into Oriental rugs. You can see a lot more at my website www.AK-47book.com

Sub-titled “The weapon that changed the face of war,” the book is available at Amazon.com.

3. How do you approach the work?

My approach is very simple. I read everything I can get my hands on. Then I think long and hard about it. Unlike many contemporary reporters I go beyond what I find on the internet. For one thing, it doesn’t go back far enough and second, a lot of what I see on the web is just plain wrong because many people don’t do critical thinking. They see something and pass it along. I think most of it is honest mistakes or laziness but it’s wrong nonetheless. Concurrently with my reading, I talk to people either in person or on the phone. I find that I can spend an hour searching the web or talk for 15 minutes to someone who knows something because they’re an expert. Too many journalists don’t pick up the phone these days and talk to someone who’s smart and knows the subject.

4. Where do you find inspiration?

I know that it’s a popular notion that writers should have muses but I don’t. I simply enjoy the work and I believe that getting the truth out is important. My other motivation is that it’s my job and I just do it. There’s no such thing as ‘plumber’s block’ so why do people talk about ‘writer’s block?’

5. What books are you reading now?

I tend to read a mixture of older books and newer books. One that I’m reading now has the odd name of “A Study in Tom-Toms,” by Gene Fowler, which was published in the 1930s. Fowler was a newspaperman in the 30s when it was a rough and tumble business. He used to hang out with people like Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon. This autobiography is so well written that it makes me jealous.

As for fiction, I love the earlier hard-boiled writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Charles Willeford and James Cain.

6. What do you consider required reading in order for people to understand the world today?

I think people should read a mixture of media: books, magazines, newspapers and the web. What’s most important is that people read out of their comfort zone. If you’re a conservative you should read liberal writings and vice versa. Too much of what people tend to read just reinforces their own thinking. This leads to narrow-mindedness.

[NEW]

Gun dealer Yuri Orlov played by Nicholas Cage in the movie “Lords of War.”

“Of all the weapons in the vast Soviet arsenal nothing was more profitable than Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947, more commonly known as the AK-47 or Kalashnikov. It’s the worlds most popular assault rifle, a weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple nine pound amalgamation of forged steel and plywood, it doesnt break, jam, or overheat. It will fire whether it’s covered in mud or filled with sand. It’s so easy even a child could use it and they do. The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people’s greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure, no one was lining up to buy their cars.”

Max Boot, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Savage Wars of Peace said this about AK 47: the weapon that changed the face of war:

“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.”

7. Whose work (in any field) do you admire the most?

I admire so many people for so many different reasons. As a general rule, I admire people who get up everyday and do their jobs well and take care of their families. I think it’s the hardest thing in the world to do.

8. What do you consider as an overrated person, place or thing?

Celebrities who are famous for being famous annoy me. The list is endless but let’s start with Paris Hilton….

This review is from Library Journal:

Journalist Kahaner (The Quotations of Chairman Greenspan: Words from the Man Who Can Shake the World ) presents a detailed study of the AK-47, the single most deadly weapon ever produced, and its designer. Mikhail Kalashnikov, a mechanically inclined Russian soldier, came up with this simple submachine gun to counter superior German weaponry during World War II. Brought into mass production in 1947 (this date formed the final part of the weapon-s name, Avtomat Kalashnikov 1947), the AK-47 was shipped by the Soviet Union to Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East during the Cold War. In part because they are so easy to make, 80 to 100 million AKs have been manufactured and distributed during the last 59 years. Moreover, the AK has proven a superior weapon to the American M-16. Kahaner provides an interesting discussion of how internal politics in the U.S. Army led it to adopt, instead, an inferior, lightweight machine gun. Kalashnikov, who lives in Russia today, never became rich from his design, but he did receive recognition outside his homeland for the impact of his weapon. A fascinating examination; recommended for all libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg

9. What do hope will be your most lasting contribution?

I know this sounds corny but I would like to be remembered for something in my writing that helped someone or advanced a righteous cause. For example, when I was a reporter at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia stories I did about brown lung disease –which you get from working in textile mills –helped change state legislation to protect workers. In another instance, I wrote about MCI On the Line and how it beat rival AT&T. It was a David and Goliath story. This inspired a woman in the midwest to start her own business. It’s too early to tell if there will be any impact from my current book AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War, but I hope that it will help people to see that there are too many military-style weapons in the wrong hands and it keeps wars going in the world’s poorest countries. I have no problem with gun ownership, but I have a problem with large-scale gun dealers who sell guns to anyone just to make money. It’s a crime on many levels.

My other rant-point in the book is how the Pentagon upper echelon often lack commonsense – they seem not to understand history - and put their own interests above that of the people they send to fight wars. As a nation, we say we love our soldiers but we treat them terribly in the field by not giving them the proper weapons, protection and training and this lack of concern often continues when they return home.

[Editor’s note: Michael Yon raised similar concerns about this in many dispatches, most notably Gates of Fire.]

10. When is the last time you laughed out loud about something?

That’s easy: Seinfeld. Even though I know many of the episodes by heart, they still make me laugh.

[Editor’s Note: Larry sent a link to a satirical video clip of what an AK-47 sales pitch on Home Shopping Network might look like. Click here to view it.]

11. What do you think people need to spend more time doing (or paying attention to)

Critical thinking. Americans by nature are very trusting people. As a nation we’re kind and generous and that makes us vulnerable to people who lie to us and cheat us. I also see school children not learning how to think for themselves. It’s a shame and will ensure that we, as a nation, fall for the lies from politicians who twist words and fool us. For me, the emperor doesn’t have any clothes. I’m not cynical but skeptical.

12. What is the most important piece of equipment (or skill) in your arsenal?

Perseverance combined with a sense of indignation along with the belief that things can get better.

Related Info:
» [NEW] Brian Bethune reviews the book in “The Lord of War” for Macleans Magazine
» [NEW] “The Reliable Killer” is a four star review in Business Week. Read it here.
» [NEW] Larry’s op-ed “Small Arms a huge problem in Iraq, worldwide” ran Dec 3rd in the Baltimore Sun. Read it here.

»Listen to an interview with Larry for an NPR segment titled “Battling the AK-47″ here
» Listen to Larry’s “The History of the AK-47 rifle” on Philadelphia’s WHYY radiohere
» Michael Yon reviewed this book for Pajamas Media
»McClatchy Newspapers also published a review of the book for Pajamas Media
» Read the latest book review from the Military Book Club here
» Larry’s Web Site: www.kahaner.com
» Larry’s Blog: http://tinyurl.com/ylkh8d
» View a flash video about the AK 47: VIDEO
» Larry compiled this fascinating FAQ on the AK 47:READ
» Read Larry’s “Weapon of Mass Destruction” article in the Washington Post here:READ
» Read Larry’s article “Why the US Loses Small Wars,” from the History News Network here:READ
» Read Larry’s Defense Tech article on the AK-47 here:READ
» Read an excerpt from the book here:READ
» Find out more about the author here:READ

 

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