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4.6 out of 5 stars25
4.6 out of 5 stars
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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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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.

From death and near death experiences, blown across land or water, or at the outer edges of the breathable atmosphere, to idyllic flights above beautiful landscapes or cities, to views of the horrors of war or sublime cloudscapes, the book is always engaging, frequently very exciting, and often even achingly romantic. Always a sign of a good stimulating read, I've now watched Albert Lamorisse's enchanting film The Red Balloon, plan to see Night Crossing (a movie based on the true story of a family who escape from East Berlin in a home made balloon), and have begun reading Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon.

I'm almost inclined to give this only four stars, because it's not quite as brilliant as The Age Of Wonder - on a bigger scale I might give that ten and this nine - but really, on its own terms, this is very, very good, hence five stars.
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on 31 July 2013
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 June 2013
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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on 24 August 2015
This is a really good read. Some chapters are more interesting than the others with the military aspect of ballooning providing the more interesting chapters. I found the accounts of the American civil war and the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War to have been the most fascinating although the closer chapter about Salomon Andree was the most compelling even though I was familiar with the story of this tragedy.

I would say that this is an ideal holiday read. It is not too technical and cram-backed with fascinating and eccentric characters. The stories are quite staggering with accounts of pioneers like Glaisher and Nadar offering alternative approaches to what could be achieved with a balloon. The colour illustrations are lavish but the whole book is also peppered with black and white illustrations. As well as balloonist, a host of other characters like Custer , Zeppelin and Victor Hugo crop up so that the book also takes on board the character of social history as well as looking at the more important and interesting journeys. Thankfully the book isn't too heavy of technical detail and is by no means specialist. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about the evolution of airships but hopefully this is something that this author can turn his attention to in the future. All in all, this was a very interesting account of something about which I previously knew very little.
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on 12 January 2014
I didn't half expect to admire and enjoy this account of balloons as much as I did. No more than that, it hooked me into the strange world of 19th century flying, with its absurdities, hilarious incidents, tragedies, and insights. For anyone who enjoys superb writing and documentation of an extraordinary time.
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on 11 October 2013
I heard this as book at bedtime on radio 4. It's well written and the research done by the author was very detailed. it does help being a balloonist with an interest in the history of gas and hot air ballooning. It is a very good read.
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on 12 February 2015
An absolutely spot on book about the extraordinary history of ballooning - brilliantly develops a theme started in The Age of Wonder. This is an important historical work on a very significant subject.
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on 6 June 2013
'The Age of Wonder' was an extraordinary book and in 'Falling Upwards' it is a delight to be able to take another flight through history with Richard Holmes. One can recommend the author's work without the slightest hesitation. If 'recommend the author's work' sounds patronising (gentle reader) I only say it to make a distinction between Holmes's words and the way they are presented by his publishers.

Having bought a superficially attractive-looking hardback book like this for £25, and another copy to give away as a present, I settled down for a good read with a sense of having done my bit for literature. Then the problems began. The book is so tightly bound that it won't stay open at any page without the use of cruel and unusual efforts. Torture and violence are needed to subdue it whenever you turn a page.

And nearly every time you do turn a page you encounter a muddy black and white illustration occupying a third or a quarter of a page. Often these are so reduced in scale that scarcely any details are visible. The white spaces surrounding them look like sombre corduroy because of lines of text that show through from the next page. And, vice-versa, the dreary pictures loom through if there happens to be a blank space behind.

When you begin to look at the three sections of coloured plates you get an odd feeling of deja-vu. You check the inadequate black and white pictures. I counted 22 of these, and there may be more, which duplicate illustrations amongst the glossy plates. What is going on? The only explanation seems to be that the publishers are getting ready for the paper-back edition which presumably will not have the glossy plates.

Perhaps the crassest detail amongst these failures of design is the use of a little symbol showing a balloon, instead of an asterisk, to indicate a footnote.

It is an annoying book to get through because of these features which continually intrude to detract from one's enjoyment. 100* stars to Richard Holmes for an enthralling text; deduct 96 stars for William Collins's design and binding which make it an ordeal to read; net balance 4****, or little balloons if you prefer them.
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on 9 May 2014
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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