Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Date: October 2013
Duration: 13 hours 37 minutes
Falling Upwards tells the story of the enigmatic group of men and women who first risked their lives to take to the air and so discovered a new dimension of human experience. Why they did it, what their contemporaries thought of them, and how their flights revealed the secrets of our planet in wholly unexpected ways is its subject.
Dramatic sequences move from the early Anglo-French balloon rivalries, the crazy firework flights of beautiful Sophie Blanchard, the revelatory ascents over the great Victorian cities and sprawling industrial towns of Northern Europe, the astonishing long-distance voyages of the American entrepreneur John Wise, and the French photographer Félix Nadar to the terrifying high-altitude flights of James Glaisher, FRS, who rose above seven miles without oxygen, helping to establish the new science of meteorology as well as the environmental notion—so important to us today—of a “fragile” planet. Balloons were also used to observe the horrors of modern battle during the American Civil War, including a memorable flight by General Custer.
Readers will discover the many writers and dreamers—from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, from Charles Dickens to Jules Verne—who felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work. Moreover, through the strange allure of the great balloonists, Holmes offers another of his subtle portraits of human endeavor, recklessness, and vision.
“In the same month that Julian Barnes published Levels of Life, with its melancholy meditations on balloon flight, Richard 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. Holmes lovingly charts a course from the Montgolfier brothers’ first hydrogen-fuelled flights in the 1780s to the use of balloons by fugitive East Germans in the 1970s and the latest forays by polar explorer David Hempleman-Adams, a history full of awe and inefficiency…Holmes is a truly masterly storyteller .”—Evening Standard (London)