Synopses & Reviews
Gunpowder first emerged from the ancient Chinese alchemical experiments to usurp the sword, spear and arrow in war, the pick and shovel in working the earth. Francis Bacon ranked its importance with the printing press and the magnet as substances that "have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world." From the intrepid Vasco da Gama, to the brilliant Antoine Lavoisier, known as the father of modern chemistry, from the glory of Cortes to the genius of E.I DuPont, the history of gunpowder is filled with notable figures as well as ordinary soldiers, sailors, gunners, miners, and powdermen who also played a role in this epic story.
With thrilling immediacy, Jack Kelly takes readers to look over the alchemist's shoulder and descend into the coal pit with the miner who fills hand-drilled holes with explosive powder; tread the deck of the heaving man-of-war as sailors haul gunpowder from the hold; stand with soldiers as cannons turn the battlefield into a roaring nightmare; and go behind the scenes with pyrotechnicians who use centuries-old methods to light up the skies with fire.
When Chinese alchemists fashioned the first man-made 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 theIndustrial 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, Cortez, 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.
"Kelly...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." Publishers Weekly
"Fiery prose sparks this exciting story as the author jumps through the centuries with nimble pose and a learned eye." Kirkus Reviews
"Kelly's lucid writing style is further accentuated by the skillful use of illustrations....[A] lively study of the 'devil's distillate.'" Library Journal
From veteran author Jack Kelly, a tour through the turbulent history of one of mankind's most critical inventions-the fiery substance that transformed everything from fireworks in China to warfare in Renaissance Europe and beyond
About the Author
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.