I recently pulled out my overused copy of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, one of the great Alternate History novels. As often happens, I found myself wondering how gunpowder is made. For those who don't know, this book is about a man who gets transported into a alternate Earth where he reveals the secret of making gunpowder to all and sundry, those upsetting the social order. It also has a lot more going for it than that, but that's the part that's relevant to this post.
Anyway, the difference this time is that I'm sitting in front of my computer, and thus in a position to google how gunpowder is made. Which leads to the question of where saltpeter comes from and how it's refined. Which leads to the Haber-Bosch process, which leads to a very interesting new book that I have ordered and will read as soon as it comes, called The Alchemy of Air, by Thomas Hager.
In a similar WW1 related note (did I mention that the Haber-Bosch process was crucial in keeping Germany's munitions industry going, after the British embargoed Chilean nitrates, which were used in making explosives?), I also got my hot little hands on a DVD version of Oh What A Lovely War, a critical parody of WW1. I saw part of it when it was once broadcast on a local public TV channel, but I lost the last 20 minutes! It portrays WW1 in terms of a seaside carnival, with lots of the patriotic songs and the war itself cast in terms of carnival rides and games, cutting behind the scenes to more realistic portrayals of what was really going on. Can't wait to see the end at last.
Eventually I'll remember to look up how paper is made too, just in case I get transported to an alternate universe.
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