Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air


Today's Nonfiction post is on Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes. It is 404 pages long including notes and index. It is published by Patheon. The cover is a beautiful illustration of a balloon rising. The intended reader is someone who is interested in science, scientific history, and ballooning. There is no sex, mild language, and no violence in this book. The story is told from third person close with first hand documents and the author's own experiences added in for favor. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket- In this heart-lifting chronicles, Richard Holmes, author of the best-selling 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 out planet is compelling adventure that only Holmes could tell.
His accounts of the early Anglo-French balloon revelries, 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 sixty-seven manned balloons that escaped Paris (the first successful civilian airlift in history) during the Prussian siege of 1870-1871; 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 Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jules Verne felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work.

Review- Fun, interesting read about something I knew next to nothing about. The history and science behind ballooning was not something that had ever crossed my mind or desk before so I went into this with any open mind. I really enjoyed learning about ballooning, who did what first, and why ballooning is now something to play with, not real serious stuff. The people who first fell upwards were interesting people with dreams of flight. Of course we now know that lighter-than-air travel is not the best but with that science they had it was the best course. Not all stories end in happiness and flight. Many of the people who tried to use balloons for travel ended up dead. But it is the dream of flight that matters. The dream of being carried away with the clouds that pulls both the ballooners and the reader. Holmes is a good writer with passion for his topic. Add in good research and foot notes, you get a very well written and interesting story.

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.