A flash and a bang and a moment of glory; Fireworks, by George Plimpton. New York: Doubleday & Co. 286 pp. $25.
Just about everyone loves fireworks, but just about no one knows anything of their history, their making, or their life apart from the Fourth of July, when they leave Americans spellbound.
To remedy this, George Plimpton, participatory journalist of considerable renown and fireworks commissioner of New York City, has produced this admittedly celebratory volume.
"Fireworks" is a book of many parts: history, profile of a leading fireworks-maker (the Grucci Fireworks Company of Bellport, N.Y.), report on the contemporary fireworks scene, how-to book (Plimpton learns how to make a shell), tragedy (a few of the principals die in tremendous explosions), reference.
The reference portion includes a glossary of some 60 pages defining fireworks terminology and a listing of important historical events. There is also a 50 -page section called "Fireworks Tours," which lists festivals and displays in various countries.
The big fireworks day in England is, of course, Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5. In Japan the Perfect Liberty show, which Plimpton visited and reports on, is July 26. In Malta, Plimpton reports, there are some 100 fireworks days. So serious are the Maltese about pyrotechnics that, when a company from that island won the International Fireworks Competition in 1980, the winners were met at the airport by a large crowd and, says Plimpton, they "were carried out of the arrivals lounge on the shoulders of the crowd."
Ever the fan, Plimpton gets involved in the making of what was to have been the world's largest firework, Fat Man, in 1976. It was a failure. But Fat Man II went up, all 720 pounds of it, near Titusville, Fla., in 1977.
Plimpton takes us to the International Fireworks Competition won by his friends, the Gruccis, in 1979 and to the funeral of Jimmy Grucci in 1983.
"Fireworks" is written in the usual genial and chatty Plimpton style, and it is well illustrated in black and white and color. Plimpton's book is as endearing and interesting as it is various. The wealth of information contained in this relatively short text makes "Fireworks" a bit too miscellaneous, yet this flaw is minimized by Plimpton's ceaseless enthusiasm. He has a gift for sharing his obsessions.