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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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