cover image Around the World in 20 Days: The Story of Our History-Making Balloon Flight

Around the World in 20 Days: The Story of Our History-Making Balloon Flight

Bertrand Piccard / Author, Brian Jones / Joint Author John Wil

For 20 days in March 1999, Piccard and Jones tempted fate, the jet stream and countless surly, foreign air-traffic controllers in a successful attempt to be the first to float a giant balloon nonstop around the world. Hyped as aviation's last great challenge and fueled by a million-dollar purse from Budweiser, the quest attracted the attention of millionaires such as Richard Branson of Virgin and David Liniger of Re/Max International. But Piccard, a Swiss psychiatrist, brought an adventurous pedigree as well as deep pockets to the undertaking: his grandfather was the first person to reach the stratosphere in a balloon, and his father set the record for the deepest dive in a submarine. Piccard and Jones, the project manager, take turns telling the story of their flight from Switzerland to Egypt the hard way. If the notion of flying around the world in a balloon has a romantic allure, the day-to-day reality consisted primarily of pirouetting slowly at the behest of the wind while remaining in constant contact with mission control on flight speed and ideal altitude. Technical problems cropped up, and readers will sympathize with the fear of flying an uncharted path across 8000 miles of Pacific Ocean. But mostly the crew in the cramped, often freezing gondola seems to have been closer to being severely inconvenienced than to being harmed. This may be a reflection on the thoroughness of their team's planning and skill, but it makes for some surprisingly dull reading. 24 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)