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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Audiobook, by Richard Holmes Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Richard Holmes Narrator: Gildart Jackson Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2013 ISBN: 9781483062631
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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.

Dramatic sequences move from the early Anglo-French balloon rivalries, the crazy firework flights of beautiful Sophie Blanchard, the revelatory ascents over the great Victorian cities and sprawling industrial towns of northern Europe, the astonishing long-distance voyages of the American entrepreneur John Wise, and the French photographer Félix Nadar to the terrifying high-altitude flights of James Glaisher, FRS, who rose above seven miles without oxygen, helping to establish the new science of meteorology as well as the environmental notion—so important to us today—of a “fragile” planet. Balloons were also used to observe the horrors of modern battle during the American Civil War, including a memorable flight by General Custer.

Readers will discover the many writers and dreamers—from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, from Charles Dickens to Jules Verne—who felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work. Moreover, through the strange allure of the great balloonists, Holmes offers another of his subtle portraits of human endeavor, recklessness, and vision.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “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’ extraordinary cabinet of drifting aerial wonderment, a book that will linger and last, as it floats ever upward in the mind.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “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’ 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.”

    New Yorker

  • “No writer alive and working in English today writes better about the past than Holmes…The stories themselves are remarkable.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Holmes is a charming and impassioned guide…his prose often reaches a moving pitch.”


  • “Endlessly exhilarating…Falling Upwards is packed full of swashbuckling stories, as well as fascinating historical accounts of the use of balloons.”

    Mail on Sunday

  • “It is a tragic tale, punctuated with ghastly accidents, but thanks to Holmes’ enthusiasm and eager curiosity it remains valiantly airborne.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “The book that gave me the most unadulterated delight this year was nonfiction, Richard Holmes’ 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.”

    New Republic

  • “[A] captivating and surely definitive history of the madness of pre-Wright brothers ballooning.”

    Times (London)

  • “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.”


  • “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 .”

    Evening Standard (London)

  • “[Richard Holmes’] wonderful history of the early years of ballooning.”

    Daily Telegraph

  • “[In] this charming, witty, and insightful account of windblown ideas and adventures, Holmes succeeds neatly in matching his form to his subject.”

    Sunday Telegraph (London)

  • “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

  • “Far from being a straightforward history of the balloon, this is an uplifting celebration of its aesthetic appeal and its ‘social and imaginative impact,’ of the writing it inspired and of the ‘strangely mesmerizing’ ‘dash and eccentricity’ of the balloonists themselves…The tone of the narrative is admiring, amused, and elegiac…In its own nostalgic but analytical fashion, Falling Upwards generates the same willing credulity that Holmes enjoys in the balloonists he admires: ‘Indeed, I find it difficult not to fall for them.’”

    New York Review of Books

  • “[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’ heady, swoopingly aerodynamic book.”

    Observer (London)

  • “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.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “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.”

    Spectator (London)

  • “I hopped aboard for his beguiling story of how we, physically and imaginatively, first took to the air. You should too.”

    Daily Beast

  • “Beautifully written and lovingly researched.”

    Country Life

  • “The author’s own love of aerostats and aerostation (Holmes’s favorite word for ‘ballooning’) shines through in the buoyancy of his text…This title will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in flighty expeditionary history, and it’s likely to fly off many library shelves.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

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

    Kirkus (starred review)

  • “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

  • “In the style of his The Age of Wonder, Holmes, fellow of the British Academy, recounts adventurous stories of balloon pioneers in France, Britain, and the United States, 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.”


  • “Few people realize the impact of lighter-than-air flight on meteorology, military strategy, postal delivery, and, of course, air and space travel. Gildart Jackson captures all the historic significance of Holmes’ work, which provides a detailed account of the early years of manned flight—from prehistoric Peru through the nineteenth century. Jackson conveys his clear respect for the subject matter. He slowly but accurately pronounces the many French names and phrases, and offers historical quotes without characterization…This is a gripping history, professionally performed.”


  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013
  • A Time Magazine Top 10 Book in 2013 for Nonfiction
  • A New Republic Best Book of 2013

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About the Author

Richard Holmes is the author of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage; Shelley: The Pursuit (for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award); Coleridge: Early Visions; and Coleridge: Darker Reflections (a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist). He lives in England.

About the Narrator

Gildart Jackson’s acting credits span the stage and screen. He is most often recognized for his roles as Gideon on Charmed and Simon Prentiss on General Hospital. He has also starred in numerous television shows, including CSI and Vegas, and he played the lead in the highly acclaimed independent feature film You, directed by his wife, Melora Hardin.