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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Hardcover – 25 Apr 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (25 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007386923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007386925
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.7 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 272,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA, Kingston University and the University of East London, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000. 'The Age of Wonder' won the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2009 in the UK, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction 2010 in the USA.

Product Description



JIM CRACE, GUARDIAN – ‘A whole wide world of significance’



DAN JONES, DAILY TELEGRAPH – ‘Tremendously inventive’

LEV GROSSMAN, TIME MAGAZINE – ‘Thrilling history’

CHLOE SCHAMA, NEW REPUBLIC – ‘Unadulterated delight’

KIRKUS – ‘Gripping’


‘A book as delightful as it is unexpected … [an] extraordinary cabinet of drifting aerial wonderment, a book that will linger and last, as it floats ever upward in the mind’ Simon Winchester, Wall Street Journal

Holmes presents a full-blown, lyrical history of the same subject, investigating the strangeness, detachment and powerful romance of ‘falling upwards’ into a seemingly alien and uninhabitable element. He lovingly charts … a history full of awe and inefficiency … A truly masterly storyteller’ Evening Standard

‘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

‘What Holmes teases out … is that ballooning gave us, quite literally, a different point of view … This exhilarating book, wonderfully written, generously illustrated and beautifully published, captures all that and more’ Spectator

‘Holmes conjures an extraordinarily vivid, violent, thrilling history, full of bizarre personalities, narrow escapes and fatal plunges. A peerless prose artist, infectiously curious’ Time Magazine

About the Author

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ACB(swansea) TOP 50 REVIEWER on 17 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a thoroughly researched account of the historical events that took mankind into the air. The oceans and the land had been and were being explored. The sky was the last pioneering frontier. Richard Holmes has lovingly written an entertaining journey into the origins of successful flight. A balloonist himself, he describes the venture as 'the mental release, the physical heart-lift, and the calm perilous descent'. Ballooning has involved adventure and expectations ranging from science, war, exploration, travel (steering a hazard), communication and even an air rescue operation in Paris. The bravado of the early exponents exposed to the unknown effects of altitude and destination are delineated with both tragic and humorous undertones.

From the first cross-channel success in 1785 to the first non-stop round the world flight in 1999, the author fills in the gaps. Ballooning from it's advent and intent is now largely a leisure industry not withstanding the enthusiasts. The author states that this book is 'not really about balloons at all. It is about what balloons gave rise to'. The spirit of adventure and the romanticism that authors and film-makers have developed is vivid as the dream-like description of the exhilaration of looking-down on the ground below. Not for my head for heights, but clearly popular.

A wonderful book, lavishly illustrated and a joy to possess and to read again and again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sebastian Palmer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Holmes is an excellent author. I came to know him via his superb book, The Age of Wonder, and have long intended, since so thoroughly enjoying that, to read more by him. Although he's written many other books (mostly biogs of Romantic writers) reading this was, finally, my fulfilment of that aim.

Part history, part compendium of pen-portraits, and part billet-doux to ballooning as the conjunction of science, adventure and romance, this is both very different to The Age Of Wonder and yet very similar. Using the development of ballooning - or the first century (give or take a few years) of that story, roughly 1870-1900 - as the thread makes for a very different and singular line through history, but Holmes' panache as a writer, and the grand yet grippingly detailed sweep through time and place, all conspire towards a great read.

Holmes' vivid narrative takes in everything from science to adventure, with such major events as the American Civil War and the Franco Prussian war woven into the fabric, painting vivid portraits of the men - and women (such as tragic French heroine Mme. Blanchard, and plucky British aerial acrobat Dolly Shepherd) - along the way. Many of these characters are fabulous, and include numerous familiar names, from pioneers like the Montgolfier brothers, via luminaries like Benjamin Franklin, to numerous writers, such as Verne, Poe, Dickens and Hugo. Some are most familiar for reasons other than their balloon connections, like Custer and the flamboyant Felix Nadar. And then there are those less widely known who nonetheless figure large in the world of aerostation, like Green, Glaisher, Flammarion and many others.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By xxxxxx on 9 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Another well writen Book from Richard Holmes. Though the subject was cover by Tom Rolt, years ago. This Book is well worth reading. Informative history, good adventure story, simply a good read. If you enjoyed, other Richard Holmes's work's, this is for you. If you have not, or interested in Ballons, then it is worth it, for the word's, on the page.
O by the way, because it deal's a great many people, many event's. It can easly, be pick-up, and put-down, with-out the loss of the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William on 31 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
I confess I like Richard Holmes as a writer; so if he had produced a book on, say, the anatomy of the donkey, I'd have probably enjoyed that too. So, to put matters straight, I had no more than a passing interest in balloons and ballooning before my children kindly gave me this book as a Father's Day gift. Now I could bore to international standard on the subject thanks to this extraordinary work. Falling Upwards is packed with stories of incredible courage, folly and vanity. It doesn't flag for a moment and left me full of admiration both for all the aeronautical pioneers and for the author. A really excellent read.
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By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the author, Richard Holmes, says in the epilogue this book is not a conventional history of ballooning. It is instead about the spirit of discovey itself and the extraordinary human drama it produces. And there is human drama here aplently. I found the stories of the balloon enabled airlift of Paris, when the city was besieged by the Prussian army in 1870, and the brave (or possibly foolhardy) attempt to balloon to the North Pole carried out by the Swedish team led by Saloman Andree in 1847, particularly moving and fascinating.

The ballooning tales described here include some of the first flights, altitude records, long distance travel, and the military use of balloons in the American Civil War.

I have never ballooned before but this book has made me want to enjoy that experience as soon as possible - but hopefully with much less drama than is recounted in these fascinating pages.
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