The Chinese invented it in the 10th century for fun and fireworks. But gunpowder -- the explosive mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal -- became the basic tool of warfare and nation building for the next 900 years. In Gunpowder, Jack Kelly follows the Chinese ''fire drug'' from the invention of the gun, through major battles decided by one side's superior powder, and up to the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we meet Joan of Arc (good with God, better with artillery), Guy Fawkes (nabbed before he could detonate Parliament), and Alfred Nobel, who established his Peace Prize out of guilt for inventing dynamite. Kelly's breathless style makes a potentially dry subject sizzle.