Skip to Content

Kalashnikov’s Legacy

A 2005 story in MIT Technology Review explained the ubiquity of the AK-47.
December 24, 2013

Today’s news of the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Soviet general who created the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, reminded us of a 2005 piece in this publication (“Kalashnikov’s Gun”) in which Edward Tenner said the gun may be “the world’s deadliest work of art.” In explaining why the Kalashnikov was used by revolutionaires and insurgents everywhere, Tenner argued that it wasn’t only because the rifle was cheap. It was because of its qualities that were born from Russia’s isolation and adversity:

The AK-47 illustrates the power of incremental adaptation. As a tank sergeant in World War II, Mikhail Kalashnikov saw that most Soviet troops had only carbines against the superior range of the German Sturmgewehr. While recovering from battlefield wounds, he began to create a design for a new weapon, one that could be assembled with relatively loose tolerances by relatively inexperienced workers, avoiding the supply bottlenecks that often resulted from the German cult of fine craftsmanship. A tractor plant originally produced the gun. Not only was the AK-47 simple to manufacture, but it could withstand rough handling in harsh terrain and climates. … It is all too easy for non-Russians, including anti-Russian terrorists, to reuse, repair, and manufacture it.

Tenner argued that this quintessential Russian ingeniousness also had “more benign outcomes.” As an example, he cited the video game Tetris, whose addictive simplicity derived from the limited processing power and memory available to its Soviet creator.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.