Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air: An Unconventional History of Ballooning (Paperback)
**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
**Time Magazine 10 Top Nonfiction Books of 2013**
**The New Republic Best Books of 2013**
In this heart-lifting chronicle, Richard Holmes, author of the best-selling The Age of Wonder, follows the pioneer generation of balloon aeronauts, the daring and enigmatic men and women who risked their lives to take to the air (or fall into the sky). Why they did it, what their contemporaries thought of them, and how their flights revealed the secrets of our planet is a compelling adventure that only Holmes could tell.
His accounts of the early Anglo-French balloon rivalries, the crazy firework flights of the beautiful Sophie Blanchard, the long-distance voyages of the American entrepreneur John Wise and French photographer Felix Nadar are dramatic and exhilarating. Holmes documents as well the balloons used to observe the horrors of modern battle during the Civil War (including a flight taken by George Armstrong Custer); the legendary tale of at least sixty-seven manned balloons that escaped from Paris (the first successful civilian airlift in history) during the Prussian siege of 1870-71; the high-altitude exploits of James Glaisher (who rose) seven miles above the earth without oxygen, helping to establish the new science of meteorology); and how Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work.
A seamless fusion of history, art, science, biography, and the metaphysics of flights, Falling Upwards explores the interplay between technology and imagination. And through the strange allure of these great balloonists, it offers a masterly portrait of human endeavor, recklessness, and vision.
(With 24 pages of color illustrations, and black-and-white illustrations throughout.)
About the Author
RICHARD HOLMES is the author of The Age of Wonder, which was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Books Critics Circle Award, and was one of The New York Times Book Review’s Best Books of the Year in 2009. Holmes’s other books include Footsteps, Sidetracks, Shelley: The Pursuit (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award) Coleridge: Early Visions (winner of the1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Award) Coleridge: Darker Reflections (an NBCC finalist), and Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage (winner of the James Tait Black Prize). He was awarded the OBE in 1992. He lives in England.
Praise for Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air: An Unconventional History of Ballooning…
“An extraordinary cabinet of drifting aerial wonderment.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Out of an ostensibly placid, dreamy activity . . . Holmes conjures an extraordinarily vivid, violent, thrilling history, full of bizarre personalities, narrow escapes and fatal plunges.” —Time
“No writer alive writes better about the past than Holmes. . . . The stories are remarkable.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Holmes has a rare and infectious capacity for wonderment. . . . He tells his balloon stories with inimitable zest. . . . A heady, swoopingly aerodynamic book.” —The Observer (UK)
“Holmes’s writing is a carnival of historical delights; at every turn there is a surprise. . . . He sneaks the whole trajectory of mankind into three hundred and fifty pages.” —The New Yorker.com
“Enthralling, picaresque history. . . . Holmes cuts his thrilling set-pieces with haunting images. . . . Appropriately, his prose is lighter than air, elegantly traversing aviators and eras. It means that as his balloonists embark on journeys full of danger and wonder the reader is suspended in the basket alongside them.” —Financial Times
“The book that gave me the most unadulterated delight this year. . . . The book is nominally a history of the hot air balloon, but it would be more accurate to describe it as a history of hope and fantasy—and the quixotic characters who disobeyed that most fundamental laws of physics and gave humans flight.” —Chloe Schama, The New Republic
“Holmes’ passion for the topic comes through in this rich and often entertaining chronicle of intrepid vertical explorers who risked (and in many cases lost) their lives lifting human flight out of the realm of mythology and into the air.” —Discover
“Holmes is a charming and impassioned guide. . . . His prose often reaches a moving pitch.” —Newsday
“Holmes’ love for the balloon . . . is obvious. . . . A fine addition to his already extraordinary oeuvre.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A book as delightful as it is unexpected, one that is a testament to the sheer pleasures of writing about what you know, about what excites you and what gives you joy. And what more joyous a topic than the hilarious insanities of ‘Falling upwards’!” —The Wall Street Journal
“Gripping. . . . Meticulous history illuminated and animated by personal passion, carried aloft by volant prose.” —Kirkus
“A full-blown, lyrical history . . . investigating the strangeness, detachment and powerful romance of ‘falling upwards’ into a seemingly alien and uninhabitable element. . . . Holmes is a truly masterly storyteller .” —London Evening Standard
“The human drama…is marvelously handled. . . . Holmes has made a subtle and captivating whole of this series of aerial adventures.” —Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A captivating and surely definitive history of the madness of pre–Wright brothers ballooning.” —The Times (London), Book of the Week
“Endlessly exhilarating. . . . Packed full of swashbuckling stories. . . . A singularly beautiful book, quite clearly a product of love.” —Mail on Sunday (UK)
“The delight [of] the author . . . carries over to the reader. Above all what Holmes teases out . . . is the very interesting idea that ballooning gave us, quite literally, a different point of view [and] a wholly novel experience of sublimity. This exhilarating book, wonderfully written, generously illustrated and beautifully published, captures all that and more.” —The Spectator