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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Hardcover – 25 Apr 2013
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SELECTED AS A BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
JIM CRACE, GUARDIAN – ‘A whole wide world of significance’
SARAH SANDS, NEW STATESMAN – ‘Sheer delight’
MICHAEL PRODGER, EVENING STANDARD – ‘Picaresque history’
DAN JONES, DAILY TELEGRAPH – ‘Tremendously inventive’
LEV GROSSMAN, TIME MAGAZINE – ‘Thrilling history’
CHLOE SCHAMA, NEW REPUBLIC – ‘Unadulterated delight’
KIRKUS – ‘Gripping’
MAIL ON SUNDAY -‘Tragic’
‘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 Age of Wonder, which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was one of the ten New York Times’ Best Books of the Year in 2009. His balloon book, Falling Upwards, was chosen as a Best Book of the Year by seven newspapers in 2013. His other biographies include Shelley: The Pursuit (winner of the 1974 Somerset Maugham Prize), Coleridge: Early Visions (winner of the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Award), Coleridge: Darker Reflections (shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and winner of the Duff Cooper Prize), and Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage (winner of the 1993 James Tait Black Prize). This Long Pursuit completes the autobiographical trilogy begun in Footsteps (1985) and Sidetracks (2000). Holmes was awarded the OBE in 1992, and was elected an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 2010. He is the 2018 winner of the BIO Award presented by the Biographers International Organization for sustained achievement in biography. He lives in London and Norwich with the novelist Rose Tremain.
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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.
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.
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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