Fiery prose sparks this exciting story as the author jumps through the centuries with nimble pose and a learned eye.



Old pro Kelly (Mad Dog, 1992, etc.) pens a popular history of the powder that has toppled kingdoms and uprooted societies for centuries.

And he actually spends a good deal of time focused on Asia before getting to what everyone already knows best: Europe. “A deeply rooted misconception in the West holds that the Chinese never used gunpowder for war, that they employed [it] for idle entertainment and children’s whizbangs,” writes Kelly, intent on this point from the beginning. What follows is a fascinating mini-treatise detailing the development of early firearms in the 10th-century Sung dynasty, the incorporation of gunpowder by successive invasions of Jurchens and Mongols, and the widespread use by the 13th century of musket-like weapons and cannon. This is all, of course, before the author gets into the meat of his discussion about how warring European principalities refined the devilish chemical until it was eventually displaced in the 19th century by synthetic propellants and high explosives. Contrasting East and West, Kelly notes that even though countries like China and India used gunpowder militarily much earlier than most people realize, they couldn’t hold a candle to the brutally efficient Europeans, who didn’t begin using it until 1311 (after most likely receiving it some decades before from China). While the French, British, and Americans were refining their gunpowder production methods and the killing power of their weaponry, “the denizens of the Chinese court looked on gunpowder technology as a low, noisy, dirty business.” And so it was. No matter how awesome or helpful gunpowder may have been, Kelly keeps reminding readers of the brutal violence always at the heart of what the Chinese called the “fire drug.”

Fiery prose sparks this exciting story as the author jumps through the centuries with nimble pose and a learned eye.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-465-03718-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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