From Publishers Weekly
A novelist and popular history writer, Kelly traces the history of gunpowder from 10th-century China to the late 19th century, when it was supplanted by Alfred Nobels nitroglycerin. Kelly takes advantage of gunpowders role in the histories of armaments and war to titillate with gruesome but fascinating accounts of the atrocities the destructive power of gunpowder visited on Europe: in the 30 Years War, the German states lost an estimated eight million peopleone-third of their population. As opposed to the shocking immediacy with which the atomic bomb entered collective consciousness, gunpowder and its accompanying technology developed as effective instruments of war over hundreds of years. But of the two, Kelly says, gunpowder has had a greater impact on the course of civilization. For example, he argues plausibly that, by the 16th century, the cost of gunpowder needed by an effective fighting force "favored strong centralized states" with the authority and ability to tax and in turn created "the foundations of modern nations." This miscellany jumps between the technical developments that continually improved gunpowder (readers will know more than they ever felt necessary about the creation of saltpeter), and gunpowders cultural impact. Kellys erudition ranges from the development of the science of ballistics to the infamous 1605 Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot to blow up the English parliament. Kelly (Line of Sight, etc.) writes well and has a terrific eye for the instructive detail or odd historical fact that brings the narrative to life. It is an entertaining and readable effort. 36 b&w illus.
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This story-filled chronicle of gunpowder extends from its invention in China about a millennium ago to its last use in battle during the American Civil War. Kelly covers the main points about the explosive--what it's made of, how it's made, who made it, and the evolution of gunpowder-powered weapons. They spelled the end of the walled city and the mounted knight, which Kelly illustrates through the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and the 1346 Battle of Crecy. From such exemplary applications of gunpowder's noisy, smoking appearance on the battlefield, Kelly repairs to the laboratory to relate what early chemists such as Robert Boyle or Antoine Lavoisier discovered about how gunpowder exploded and what others figured out about the ballistics of shot. With similarly lively portraits of figures who chaperoned gunpowder to its technical peak in the 1800s, the Du Ponts on the manufacturing side, or the inventors of revolvers and rifled arms on the weaponry side, Kelly accesses history through technology. A skillfully done treatment with solid popular potential. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved