Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

Richard Holmes. Pantheon, $35 (416p) ISBN 978-0-307-37966-5
Mesmerized by the dash and eccentricity of many who have flown balloons since the first Montgolfiers of 1783, Holmes (The Age of Wonder) communicates the perilous delight of ballooning through tales of scientific feats and derring-do. Fearless, reckless French aeronaut Sophie Blanchard delighted both Napoleon and restored Bourbon King Louis XVIII as she released nighttime aerial firework displays and executed complicated acrobatics while standing, exposed, in a tiny silver gondola. (In 1819, thousands watched horrified as Blanchard, aged 41, crashed to her death in a fiery descent from the Paris sky.) Although New Hampshirite Thaddeus Lowe’s dreams of transatlantic balloon flight were cut short by the Civil War, he persuaded Lincoln that a balloon could carry telegraph equipment and send direct aerial observations to a commander on the ground; and “one of Lowe’s most brilliant observational coups” was the discovery of the Confederates’ May 1862 secret evacuation of Yorktown under cover of darkness. British meteorologist James Glaisher (1809–1903) attempted to determine how high a man could fly before he was “asphyxiated, frozen, burnt or even electrocuted by static electricity in high clouds.” An unconventional history of ballooning, this quirky, endearing, and enticing collection melds the spirit of discovery with chemistry, physics, engineering, and the imagination. Illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/26/2013
Release date: 10/29/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 392 pages - 978-0-307-90870-4
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