Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World

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Basic Books, Apr 27, 2009 - History - 272 pages
3 Reviews
When Chinese alchemists fashioned the first manmade explosion sometime during the tenth century, no one could have foreseen its full revolutionary potential. Invented to frighten evil spirits rather than fuel guns or bombs—neither of which had been thought of yet—their simple mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal went on to make the modern world possible. As word of its explosive properties spread from Asia to Europe, from pyrotechnics to battleships, it paved the way for Western exploration, hastened the end of feudalism and the rise of the nation state, and greased the wheels of the Industrial Revolution.With dramatic immediacy, novelist and journalist Jack Kelly conveys both the distant time in which the “devil’s distillate” rose to conquer the world, and brings to rousing life the eclectic cast of characters who played a role in its epic story, including Michelangelo, Edward III, Vasco da Gama, Cortés, Guy Fawkes, Alfred Nobel, and E. I. DuPont. A must-read for history fans and military buffs alike, Gunpowder brings together a rich terrain of cultures and technological innovations with authoritative research and swashbuckling style.

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Gunpowder: alchemy, bombards, and pyrotechnics: the history of the explosive that changed the world

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Writer and novelist Kelly (Mobtown) provides an entertaining and informative historical survey of the "fire drug." Around 1000 C.E., Chinese alchemists first mixed saltpeter, sulfur, and a variety ... Read full review

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The author of this marvellous commentary has displayed a conversational style of writing. I can almost hear what is written rather than simply read it. I find his style both fluent and sensible. Instead of trying to dazzle the reader with cerebral excesses, the author invites the reader to come on a wonderful journey through not only history but through personal experiences of people from long ago. More is said with less. This is a thoroughly enjoyable paddle through time which I highly recommend to hungry minds. 

Selected pages


Fire Drug
Thundring Noyse
The Most Pernicious Arts
The Devills Birds
Villainous Saltpetre
Conquests Crimson Wing
NitroAerial Spirit
No One Reasons
History Out of Control
The Meeting of Heaven and Earth
Appalling Grandeur
The Old Article
Something New

What Victory Costs

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About the author (2009)

Jack Kelly is both an accomplished novelist and an experienced author of popular history. He writes regularly for American Heritage, and has also written features about the DuPont family's involvement in the gunpowder industry and the history of fireworks in America. He lives in Milan, New York.

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