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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by…

Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

by Richard Holmes

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Fun, interesting read about something I knew next to nothing about. The history and science behind ballooning was not something that had ever crossed my mind or desk before so I went into this with any open mind. I really enjoyed learning about ballooning, who did what first, and why ballooning is now something to play with, not real serious stuff. The people who first fell upwards were interesting people with dreams of flight. Of course we now know that lighter-than-air travel is not the best but with that science they had it was the best course. Not all stories end in happiness and flight. Many of the people who tried to use balloons for travel ended up dead. But it is the dream of flight that matters. The dream of being carried away with the clouds that pulls both the ballooners and the reader. Holmes is a good writer with passion for his topic. Add in good research and foot notes, you get a very well written and interesting story.

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library. ( )
  lrainey | May 25, 2016 |
interesting history of lighter than air ballooning. The author makes this a very personal account of what ballooning can mean to an individuals life. I want to read "Age of Wonder" and read this because of a positive review. Now I really look forward to reading "Age of Wonder." ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
Falling Upwards: How We Took to The Air, by Richard Holmes, is a history of balloon flight, from its beginnings in 1780s France through the end of the 19th Century, with some discussion of ballooning in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Along the way, we learn about the history of physics, engineering and climatology, among other sciences, and we get to meet many dedicated, not to say eccentric, people. The book focuses primarily on European, British and American efforts at early flight, the latter country being represented by the use of balloons as spy equipment in the Civil War. The final chapter, "Extreme Balloons," concerns three Swedish men who attempted to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897; it is absolutely heartbreaking. I was pleased to note the scholarship of this work: not only does Holmes include regular footnotes that exhaustively cite his sources, but he has special footnotes as well, in which he includes anecdotes, his personal experience with ballooning and other interesting asides, these also being extensively sourced. In fact, reading on my tablet I found that the last 25% of the book consisted of lists of illustrations, bibliographies and footnotes, which is quite impressive! Holmes has a very inviting writing style - while he goes into detail about the mechanics of flight, he does so in an engaging way that is easy to follow. I really enjoyed this book, learned a lot about all sorts of things (who knew that during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, balloons were used to break the siege of Paris?) and will look forward to reading more from this excellent author. Highly recommended! ( )
  thefirstalicat | Jan 9, 2014 |
Lots of great stories, facts, research, and photos add up to a very interesting book with more than just a little detail. I loved reading about the history of ballooning, its effect on history, how history affected ballooning. The author writes well and clearly, doesn't get pedantic, and included wonderful illustrations and photos, even in the advance reader's copy I was given.

It's not all beautiful views and lovely picnics after landing. There were so many reasons people flew. Some were noble, some were frivolous, and some merely greedy. I was especially interested in how balloon flying has contributed to scientific knowledge, and how balloons were used in war.

Some of these pilots, especially the high altitude ones, were very brave and more than a few were equally foolish, some with incredible imagination and innovative ideas. This was as much a book about history as about ballooning, but taken from a point of view that drew it all together.

This was far from a quick read for me, and I didn't read it without breaks to absorb what I'd read and read other, less challenging books. The book is very story- and fact-dense, and those who want only a high-level view (no pun intended) might get bogged down in all of it. As for me, I loved it, but read it in small doses.

4.5 out of 5 stars. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Jan 7, 2014 |
Falling Upwards is a very good history of ballooning. What’s more, it’s a good read. When I first started the book, I liked it, but was wondering how comprehensive it would be. Very. It has a good index and bibliography, and copious footnotes.
My primary interest is military ballooning. The accounts of the early French and American programs are very good. It has more data on the Confederate balloon Gazelle, the ‘Silk Dress’ balloon, than I’ve seen elsewhere. The Brazilian attempt to recruit Lowe to develop a military balloon corps after the American Civil War is mentioned. It also has a good account of the homemade balloon used in an escape from East Germany in 1979.
This is a good read and a fun way to start any research on the history of ballooning. Four other useful titles (not mentioned in Holmes’ bibliography) are:

Chaintrier, Louis A. Balloon Post of the Siege of Paris, 1870-71. Translated by Everett E. Thompson, George W. Angers and Joseph L. Eisendrath. Washington , DC: American
Air Mail Society, 1976.

Haydon, Frederick Stansbury. "Documents Relating to the First Military Balloon Corps Organized in South America: The Aeronautic Corps of the Brazilian Army, 1867-1868". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 19, no. 4: 504-517 (1939).

Haydon, Frederick Stansbury. Military Ballooning During the Early Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1941, 2000. ISBN: 0801864429. [Original tile: Aeronautics in The Union and Confederate Armies, with a survey of military aeronautics prior to 1861, vol. 1; vol.2 was never published].

Petschull, Jürgen. Night Crossing. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1981. An account of the East German escape in a home-made hot-air balloon. ( )
  WaltNoise | Dec 30, 2013 |
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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.--… (more)

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