Title: Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air
Author: Richard Holmes
How it fulfills the challenge: Besides the normal strategic inserts of color photographs, the text of the book is studded with black and white pictures of hot air balloons, portraits of the balloonists who flew them, and various documents and drawings.
Quick Description: A detailed look at the rise of hot air ballooning, with less emphasis on its early history and more on the height of the ballooning craze and time of exploration and exhibition. (1700-1800s mostly). It also deals with the characters and histories of particular balloonists, trying to get at what made them take to the air in the first place.
Highlights: If you’ve ever wanted to get into the head of a historical balloonist, this book will take you there. It’s really great at explaining the time period and the lives of different balloonists. It’s set up for a fairly casual reader but still offers a lot of depth and covers a wide range of time periods and subtopics. The writing, for a book of this type, is fairly engaging–you can tell the author is very passionate about the subject. This could be a problem in a standard biography, but the range of subjects seems to help him keep his objectivity. He regards ballooning itself with something almost like reverence towards something greater or magical, and it’s really interesting to read what balloonists themselves thought about flying.
Low Points: Like many nonfiction books, there were sections that seemed to drag, but that could be because I was reading the book as research. Anything that resembles required reading is just automatically less fun for me.
Goodreads rating: 4 stars. The bottom line is it’s a well-researched book on a very specific, sort of obscure topic.