Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
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.