Fireworks and the origin of modern science
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Simon Werrett’s Fireworks opens with the discovery by “gunners” that their professional skills had a market away from the battlefield. In collaboration with architects, scholars, and “natural philosophers,” they put on shows that appealed to “noble,” “elite,” and “polite” audiences as well as to the “uneducated” and “vulgar.” Eventually, enterprising “artisans” and showmen, especially itinerant Italian “practitioners,” dominated design of the displays, invoking “science,” improving technique, exciting jealousy among local “artificers,” creating grandiose theater, and causing a few spectacular accidents. Apart from muddiness in the identification of the groups stigmatized above by quotation marks, all this makes a good story. Werrett has excavated it from many sources, some remote and unusual, and illustrated it with well-chosen period art, some reproduced in color.
Werrett is particularly good in telling about the use and display of fireworks in eighteenth-century Russia, with which,...