The compact automatic rifle that Stalin’s engineers unveiled in 1947 didn’t look like much of a gun. The result of a secret design contest, its components were simple, inelegant, workmanlike. Its ammunition lacked the stopping power of other rifle cartridges. Its barrel was too short to achieve the range of standard infantry rifles. When the Pentagon finally got its hands
on a few of the weapons in the 1950s, officials scoffed. But from this unheralded beginning, the Soviet Union’s modest little gun—dubbed the Avtomat Kalashnikova-47—would become one of the most recognizable artifacts of the 20th century.