Author(s): Richard Holmes
'Nominally a history of the hot air balloon, 'Falling Upwards' is really a history of hope and fantasy - and the quixotic characters who disobeyed that most fundamental laws of physics and gave humans flight' New Republic, Best Books of 2013 CHOSEN AS BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR IN ** Guardian ** New Statesman ** Daily Telegraph ** New Republic ** TIME Magazine 10 Top Nonfiction Books of 2013 ** The New Republic Best Books of 2013 ** Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)** From ambitious scientists rising above the clouds to test the air, to brave generals floating over enemy lines to watch troop movements, this wonderful book offers a seamless fusion of history, art, science, biography and the metaphysics of flight. It is a masterly portrait of human endeavour, recklessness, vision and hope. In this heart-lifting book, Richard Holmes, author of the best-selling The Age of Wonder, follows 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. It is not a conventional history of ballooning. In a sense it is not really about balloons at all. It is about what balloons gave rise to. It is about the spirit of discovery itself and the extraordinary human drama it produces. From the dramatic and exhilarating 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 to 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.
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air is the first book by Richard Holmes since the wonderful The Age of Wonder, and it certainly does not disappoint. This time he writes about the history of hot-air balloons, beginning with the Montgolfier brothers in France in 1783, and ending in the present day. Among the stories in this fascinating book are the use of the balloons in the American Civil War - even General Custer went up in one - and the amazing meteorologist James Glaisher who in 1862 rose above seven miles without oxygen, establishing the environmental notion of a 'fragile planet' so important to us today. The many poets and writers of the romantic era that Holmes has written about so memorably in his earlier work also felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work. A wonderful book, beautifully written, my best non-fiction read this year. - Jan
'[Holmes] has a rare and infectious capacity for wonderment ... dazzling ... I felt I was flying - with the sensations of hilarity, ecstasy and terror that are rightly provoked by our escape from gravity ... while I was reading Holmes's heady, swoopingly aerodynamic book' Observer 'The delight the author clearly took in researching and writing it 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 ... a wholly novel experience of sublimity. This exhilarating book, wonderfully written, generously illustrated and beautifully published, captures all that and more' Spectator 'It is a tragic tale, punctuated with ghastly accidents, but thanks to Holmes's enthusiasm and eager curiosity it remains valiantly airborne' Sunday Times '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 'Endlessly exhilarating ... packed full of swashbuckling stories, as well as fascinating historical accounts of the use of balloons. It is also a singularly beautiful book, wonderfully designed and illustrated and quite clearly a product of love' Mail on Sunday
Richard Holmes is the author of the prize-winning and best-selling The Age of Wonder, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2009 and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science writing. He is the author of many other prize-winning books including Shelley, Coleridge, Dr Johnson & Mr Savage, and the classic work, Footsteps. He lives in Norwich and is married to the novelist Rose Tremain.