Why on earth would anybody want to read a whole book on gunpowder? Because it is well written, beautifully researched, and shows a scholar having a wonderful time sharing the out-of-the way stories that are strung through this history by their relationship to the development of gunpowder. Along the way, the author uses print as an explosive on various myths-- for instance, the romance of castle life and the relative honesty and intelligence of various royalty go BOOM. The sections on Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot, Alfred Nobel and our own Du Ponts are especially good in a generally outstanding book. Under the anecdotal fun are serious sidelights on the peaceful uses of dangerous materials-- mining, transportation and manufacturing stepping in after the war lords-- as true with gunpowder as with the atom. It is to be illustrated with prints and drawings. The book stands as an excellent example of the fact that research can be fun-- and fun to read.