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on November 29, 2017
The best parts of this book were the true historical accounts about European adventurers and explorers in early modern Africa.

The worst parts were the deplorable racism in which Verne compares black Africans to primates—something he also did in The Mysterious Island, which I have read more than once. I know that it was part of Verne's zeigeist, but it still seems inexcusable.

The plot was for the most part an incoherent ramble over difficult, fancifully described geography. The misadventures were funny—the preface even says the book is meant to be somewhat satirical.

I wouldn't have finished if it wasn't for the well-produced audiobook from Librivox.
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on December 31, 2014
For Jules Verne's first novel, this is remarkably well-developed. I enjoyed it more than 20,000 Leagues and about as much as the Mysterious Island (a boyhood favorite).

I understand that this is a satire of the African explores and their constant oneupmanship. I've read some of those journals and appreciated Verne's idea of sailing his men far over Livingstone, Burton, and Speke' expeditions in a balloon.

The protagonists' attitudes and references to the Africans seem horribly pejorative to the modern reader (especially one living in Africa), but Verne stoops no lower than the common views of 1863.

The best commendation I can give about this is that it made me want to build my own hydrogen balloon and try to recreate this journey. Some of his scenes were a bit contrived (how did the wind move the balloon in just the right direction to save Joe?) But others were believable enough that it made me wonder what lengths Verne went to in his research.

Definitely worth reading for fun.
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on August 12, 2013
Five Weeks in a Balloon was the first novel that made Jules Verne famous. Published in 1963, it is, like all his other famous works, the story of a fantastic journey. In this case, the journey is across what was then known as 'Darkest Africa' in a balloon. All of Verne's great books are about journeys of one sort or another; either Around the World in 80 Days, to the Center of the Earth, beneath the sea in a submarine, through the sky in some form of airship, to the Moon in a cannon shell or, in the case of Michael Strogoff, merely overland across Russia and Central Asia.

Verne has often been called the first science-fiction writer. Perhaps that description is actually quite appropriate, because much of Verne's 'science' is pretty much 'fiction'. That is certainly the case in FWIAB, which was written at a time when the average reading public's knowledge both of the interior of Africa and of ballooning were sketchy at best. There was a reason why people used to refer to interior of Africa as 'Darkest Africa' or 'The Dark Continent', and it had nothing to do with 'race'. Up until the mid 1800s few outsiders had ever been farther inland than a few miles from the coast, so that most of the continent was still a blank space on the map. At the time when Verne wrote FWIAB the newspapers were becoming filled with stories of dauntless explorers penetrating the mysteries of the 'Dark Continent', so it was a natural subject for a fantasist such as Verne. However, at the time the book was written most of the interior of the continent was still unknown, so don't expect to use FWIAB as a source for geographical accuracy. For example, Verne describes a region of arid, water-less desert a position where the Congo River actually is, not that anybody would have known the difference at the time.

Since ballooning was an equally new and exiting activity, it was a natural choice to combine the two. Needless to say, Jules Verne's grasp of ballooning was about as vague as his knowledge of the interior of Africa. Even a rudimentary knowledge of aerostatic theory reveals that the amount of lift generated by the amount of hydrogen in the balloon in FWIAB would have fallen short by about half a ton. In other words, Verne's 'Victoria' would undoubtedly have turned out to have been the original 'Lead Zeppelin'.

Technicalities notwithstanding, what the reader will find here is a charming 'flight of fancy' to strange places with three dauntless, 19th-Century British explorers. Don't look for 21st-Century sensibilities or Dostoyevskian themes and character development, because you won't ever find those things in any of the works of Jules Verne. In other words, so long as the reader doesn't expect too much, just a pleasant story about a fantastic adventure, then the reader won't be disappointed.
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on April 2, 2014
It can be fun to read how the writers of the past imagined things and places they had never seen and experienced. But unlike Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "Five Weeks in a Ballon" (FWiaB) is overloaded with history and anecdotes from this era, when Africa was being explored. In many chapters there is far too much fact and not enough imaginative fiction, for me anyway. Due to this, it was difficult to separate fact from fiction. This blurring is sometimes a fine literary tool, but here when describing the natives and their customs I found it difficult to read.

As intelligent and accurate as Verne is with his science, he obviously has no idea about hunting, dressing, butchering, and cooking wild animals. Very laughable. Also amusing is the oh-so-cordial way that Verne's characters treat each other. A much more polite time perhaps. Or maybe only in Verne's imagination?

I much prefered his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to this book. 20K earns five stars to FWiaB 's three stars
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on April 16, 2016
This is a very good old fashioned adventure story. It is a combination narrative and geography lesson about the African terrain. The thrills the three close friends encounter, while somewhat fanciful, illustrate the depth of their friendship and complete loyalty to each other. All three of the characters possess particular skills that enhance the journey and the strength of their teamwork is amazing. There were many English explorers who willing to risk their lives in order to advance the knowledge of the African continent.
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on March 21, 2013
If you are like me and want to load your Kindle with a lot of (free!) classics you never got around to reading before on top of the modern stuff you have to pay for...you have probably discovered that there are multiple versions (and levels of quality) of the old standards available, costing anywhere from free to practically free. This version was much better than average...it included the black & white line drawings, and the text was faithfully reproduced and almost free of typos. Regarding the story itself...it's a typical Jules Verne yarn, with the typical plusses and minuses. Full of adventure? - yes. Full of some history? - yes. Full of some scientific probability and forward vision? - yes. Also full of old racial stereotypes and other prejudices - yes, that too. If you can get by with gritting your teeth and rolling your eyes everytime you have to wade through the evidence of past (and sadly, in some cases still current) prejudice, then it's still a fine adventure yarn. If I were teaching this book or having my kids read it...I would also use it as an object lesson in how bad things were then in terms of patronization and prejudice.
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on August 2, 2015
Like many others in this series by Jules Verne, it is a great book. The adventure itself is great. However, it starts out t a bit slow. The author includes an excessive quantity of historical information about the explorers of Africa. I don't know if these are from real accounts or fictitious ones. He also goes into
technical detail of the calculations and materials used, which helps add realism, but can bog down the story at times. All in all, I enjoyed it and thought the characters were great. This would make a great movie.
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on September 15, 2015
not on the level of Mysterious Island, 20,000 Leagues, Around the World in 80 days by any shot, actually kind of boring
I don't know the chronology of his books, but my guess is that this was an early offering, and probably in serial form,

cover of book is most exciting thing about it

a real disappointment

sort of like the old joke, about 3rd prize being three weeks in Dogtown, and 1st Prize being one week in Dogtown

much better if it were one week in his balloon
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on September 4, 2012
I read this book on my kindle after it being recommended to me by a coworker. I enjoy a variety of books and this classic is no exception. I love the idea of travelling across Africa in a balloon and guessed from the beginning that there would be some adventures and troubles along the way. The way the book is written can be a bit much for the casual reader. I nearly gave up on it in sheer boredom when the mechanics of the balloon were described in sickeningly tedious detail. The only reason I kept going was because my coworker promised it would enthrall me. I cannot say that it enthralled, but it did keep me reading until I was rooting for the characters to complete their quest and be on the ground and safe. My hero in the book is the gentleman who is clearly a slave, but he is the most amazing person, full of courage and heart. I do hate the ending, but it was worth my time to experience it. It will be worth your time as well.
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on September 13, 2017
It's well worth your time to read. I realized I had gotten sucked into the story when I found myself unable to help but get anxious at times when things got exciting. That makes it fun.
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