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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Hardcover – October 29, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0307379665 ISBN-10: 0307379663 Edition: First American Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First American Edition edition (October 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379665
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #439,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ballooning attracts romantics who believe the experience of floating is worth the risk of death and injury. In the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth centuries, it also drew dreamers who believed ballooning was the key to advancing transportation, scientific exploration, and military surveillance. Why bounce along in a horse-drawn coach when you could glide quickly through the air to your destination? Optimists foresaw great profits for anyone who could develop dependable balloons that could be steered to appointed cities, delivering people, goods, and messages. Ambitious scientists rose above the clouds to test the qualities of air, while brave generals floated over enemy lines to watch troop movements. In the style of his The Age of Wonder (2010), Holmes, fellow of the British Academy, recounts adventurous stories of balloon pioneers in France, Britain, and the U.S., who built and tested airships, gloriously setting records for speed, distance, and height, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Filled with period drawings and early photographs, this entertaining history will be popular with history readers. --Rick Roche


**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
**Time Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2013**
**The New Republic Best Books of 2013**

“Holmes has written a book that is as compulsively digestible as the Internet, and yet it is rounder and warmer, and packed with more facts and obscure stories than you would learn if you combed the Web for months. Holmes’s writing is a carnival of historical delights; at every turn there is a surprise, all adding up to a whole…. ‘Falling Upwards’ sneaks the trajectory of mankind into under three hundred and fifty pages, which you can read in short dashes. You may not notice it at the time, but what he is doing is changing the game.” —Rachel Syme, The New Yorker

“…the book that gave me the most unadulterated delight this year was nonfiction, Richard Holmes’s Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air. The book is nominally a history of the hot air balloon, but it would be more accurate to describe it as a history of hope and fantasy—and the quixotic characters who disobeyed that most fundamental laws of physics and gave humans flight.” —Chloe Schama, The New Republic, Best Books of 2013

“Out of an ostensibly placid, dreamy activity, hot air ballooning, Holmes conjures an extraordinarily vivid, violent, thrilling history, full of bizarre personalities, narrow escapes and fatal plunges. A peerless prose artist, infectiously curious, Holmes revives such forgotten heroes as Sophie Blanchard, Napoleon’s official aeronaut, and James Glaisher, who in 1862 rode a balloon to 29,000 feet without oxygen in the name of science, and Thaddeus Lowe, who flew over Civil War battlefields, doing aerial reconnaissance for the Union” —Time Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the 2013

“A book as delightful as it is unexpected, one that is a testament to the sheer pleasures of writing about what you know, about what excites you and what gives you joy. And what more joyous a topic than the hilarious insanities of ‘Falling upwards’!.... Richard Holmes’s extraordinary cabinet of drifting aerial wonderment, a book that will linger and last, as it floats ever upward in the mind.” —Simon Winchester, The Wall Street Journal

“No writer alive and working in English today writes better about the past than Holmes….The stories themselves are remarkable.” —Paul Elie, The New York Times Book Review
“Throughout his book, Holmes’ love for the balloon (a ‘mixture of power and fragility in constant flux’ is his description for it) is obvious. It’s a fine addition to his already extraordinary oeuvre.” —Mark Gamin, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“British biographer Holmes’ passion for the topic comes through in this rich and often entertaining chronicle of intrepid vertical explorers who risked (and in many cases lost) their lives lifting human flight out of the realm of mythology and into the air.” —Braenna Draxler, Discover
“Holmes is a charming and impassioned guide…his prose often reaches a moving pitch.” —Tom Beer, Newsday

“An unconventional history of ballooning, this quirky, endearing, and enticing collection melds the spirit of discovery with chemistry, physics, engineering, and the imagination.” —Publishers Weekly

“Gripping…Meticulous history illuminated and animated by personal passion, carried aloft by volant prose.” —Kirkus  

“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 .” —London Evening Standard

“Ballooning was among the numerous bold scientific adventures outlined in Holmes’s multi-award-winning best seller, The Age of Wonder. Here Holmes details its history and consequences, starting in the late 1700s and proceeding to the seven-mile-high flights of James Glaisher, FRS, which launched the new science of meteorology.” —Library Journal

“(Holmes) has a rare and infectious capacity for wonderment…dazzling…I felt I was flying—with the sensations of hilarity, ecstasy and terror that are rightly provoked by our escape from gravity…while I was reading Holmes’s heady, swoopingly, aerodynamic book.” —The Observer
“Richard Holmes’s captivating and surely definitive history of the madness of pre-Wright brothers ballooning.” —The Times
“This is a book in which the delight the author clearly took in researching and writing it carries over to the reader…puckish is its pleasure in its details and in its gusts of digression…he has a lovely wit and ease of address…above all what Holmes teases out…is the very interesting idea that ballooning gave us, quite literally, a different point of view….it offers a wholly novel experience of sublimity…This exhilarating book, wonderfully written, generously illustrated and beautifully published, captures all that and more.” —The Spectator
“In this charming, witty and insightful account of windblown ideas and adventures Holmes succeeds neatly in matching his form to his subject.” —Sunday Telegraph
“It is a tragic tale, punctuated with ghastly accidents, but thanks to Holmes’s enthusiasm and eager curiosity it remains valiantly airborne.” —Sunday Times
“enthralling, picaresque history…Holmes cuts his thrilling set-pieces with haunting images…Appropriately his prose is lighter than air elegantly traversing aviators and eras. It means that as his balloonists embark on journeys full of danger and wonder the reader is suspended in the basket alongside them.” —Financial Times
“Endlessly exhilarating…FALLING UPWARDS is 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
“his enthusiasm is one of the book’s many pleasures…it is hard not to discern something similarly joyous in this second-hand account (of ballooning narratives)…a spirited work.” —The Economist
“(Richard Holmes’s) wonderful history of the early years of ballooning.” —Daily Telegraph
“Beautifully written and lovingly researched.” —Country Life
“Holmes is a distinguished biographer with a fine sense of how individual lives reflect and redirect the larger forces that flow through and around them…the aeronauts of the heroic age …seem glamorous and admirable in their pursuit of knowledge, fame, fortune, military superiority and sheer excitement.” —The Guardian

“Full of surprises….a book to seek out.” —Toby Lester, American Scholar Review
“The human drama…is marvelously handled. Holmes is an astute biographer, and has already shown with The Age of Wonder…that he can write about multiple subjects just as well as he can about an individual….He has made a subtle and captivating whole of this series of aerial adventures.” —Lily Ford, TLS

Customer Reviews

Falling Upwards is an engaging story of the hot air balloon.
It does seems very well researched and full of information and historical background of ballooning in the 1800s, so for that I applaud it.
Overall it was a fun read with a lot of interesting History.
Frank In Cincinnati

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is closer to a book about what journalists, poets and novelists thought about balloons, and the popular reaction to their writings. What it actually is one more level removed from balloons, it is a book about the deep subtexts Richard Holmes finds even in seemingly straightforward accounts of ballooning.

I am a fan of Richard Holmes' earlier books, both the biographies and the histories. These mix competent if sometimes sketchy names-and-dates accounts with deep dives into meaning of written passages. These dives are always edifying and often brilliant; at worst they are idiosyncratic but fun.

This book follows the same general plan, but is less successful. Yes, balloons have inspired a lot of creative thinkers, but they are engineering achievements first and objects of contemplation second. This book needs a lot more factual history, science and technical detail. Without this knowledge it is impossible to understand many of the events and accounts. Further, without a framework, the book often reads like disconnected anecdotes.

The second problem is the deep dives seem entirely untethered. Holmes draws on a highly selective account of literary and social history, in which he finds obscure meanings. It goes beyond idiosyncratic and eccentric, the best I can say is that it's always thought-provoking, or something-provoking anyway.

That said, this is a well-written and entertaining book if taken a page or two at a time. Readers who like to know why they are being told things, or where the book is going, may feel frustrated, but patient readers will find a lot to enjoy along the way. If you read this book, treat it like a balloon ride, not an airplane flight to a destination.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E.B. Bristol VINE VOICE on September 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I was a kid, we lived near a golf course, and I can remember seeing the hot air balloons occasionally drifting over our house. At the time, I vowed to one day ride in one myself, something I have yet to do, but the dream was rekindled after reading "Falling Upwards: How We Took To the Air," by Richard Holmes, a history of ballooning that is dramatic, intriguing and beguiling. He begins by describing the harrowing trip of Major John Money, who in 1785 raised money for a hospital, and who came to grief, but returned to ballooning undaunted. The book ends with a detailed account of three "extreme balloonists" who made a perilous polar expedition to the North Pole, of which photos and personal accounts have survived.

According to Holmes, himself a balloonist, balloonists come in all shapes and sizes, but have a few things in common: a passion to be airborne, and resilience in the face of danger. Like passionate equestrians, they tend to get back in the saddle (or basket) fairly soon after an accident.

As for their chosen mode of transport, balloons have been used throughout the ages for far more than simply pleasure flights. Their uses include:

1) Bringing messages to loved ones during war, including during the siege of Paris by the Prussians in the 1870's, as well as during the Civil War.

2) To advertise and generate publicity. Newspapers have solicited accounts from balloonists, and writer Guy Maupassant used a balloon to kick off his book tour.

3) As a symbol of women's rights: Women performers who used balloons to dazzle the crowd were seen as suffragettes.

4) Exploration: Used to study weather conditions and geology among other things.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I lost myself reading The Age of Wonder, the previous book by Richard Holmes, becoming completely caught up in its enticing panorama of the Romantic Age of Europe, when there were still far flung parts of the globe to explore, most of the chemical elements awaited discovery, and poets and scientists looked to each other for inspiration, so I started Falling Upwards with great anticipation and it largely lived up to my expectations.

Like the previous book, Falling Upwards has a mix of art and scientific discovery, and is full of fascinating, colorful characters, but here they are all involved in the science, circus-like demonstrations, or military uses of ballooning. It spends most of its pages on the dangerous but exciting early stages of ballooning from around 1780 through the early 1900's, though there are some stories about more recent balloon exploits, like a risky escape over the Berlin Wall. It's not a conventional history but in a clever and effective move the book uses ballooning to explore evolving attitudes, technologies, culture, and beliefs. The idea of flight thrilled people, ballooning gave us our first mind-expanding vision of the world as seen from on high, and Falling Upwards successfully captures the excitement and joy of discovery.

For me one of the most interesting episodes described is the use of balloons to try to break the punishing 1870-71 siege of Paris when Bismarck set out to cut that city off from the world and let Parisians starve. The book's only negatives from my perspective are that it has a little too many details about the science of ballooning, and a few too many characters to keep track of, but the enthusiasm of Holmes is infectious and the book is a wonderful read.
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More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. His is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000.

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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air
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