This heart-lifting book floats widely across the world, and offers a cracking international story of drama, adventure and danger. It follows the pioneer generation of balloon aviators from the first heroic experiments of the Montgolfiers in 1780s to the tragic attempt to fly a balloon to the North Pole in the 1890s, with many highly dramatic action sequences in between.
These include the crazy firework flights of beautiful Sophie Blanchard; the first revelatory flights over the great Victorian cities displaying class divisions, pollution and industrial sprawl; the astonishing long-distance night-flights of Charles Green and Felix Nadar which exposed the strange and savage power of Nature in new ways.
Later come the perilous use of balloons to observe the horrors of modern battle during the American Civil War (including a memorable flight by General Custer); the inspiring story of the sixty balloons that escaped Paris during the terrible Prussian siege of 1870; and the terrifying high-altitude flights of James Glaisher FRS who rose above 30,000 feet without oxygen, helping to establish in the process the new science of metereology as well as develop the environmental notion of a 'fragile planet' existing within a thin and delicate skin of atmosphere.
Besides the balloonists themselves, readers will also discover Erasmus and Charles Darwin, Shelley, Coleridge, Edgar Alan Poe, Henry Mayhew, Charles Dickens, Tennyson, Victor Hugo, Gautier, Jules Verne, George Sand, John Ruskin, HG Wells and many other writers and dreamers who felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work.
This is another masterpiece of biographical and scientific writing from Richard Holmes that shows why these flights revealed the secrets of our planet in a new and wholly unexpected ways.