Let me start off this review with a confession. The main reason I have purchased this book is because of the cover showing Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in their new movie ‘Aeronauts’ inspired by this book. As I have previously seen the trailer and was intrigued by the concept of pioneer balloonists, I decided to get ‘Falling Upwards’. However, this was not the kind of book I had expected and unfortunately I have not enjoyed it too much. To be honest, I thought it would be more similar to the movie, depicting one high-risk balloon flight and its importance. Instead, it is an extremely detailed exploration of history of ballooning. While I can definitely appreciate all the unexpected knowledge I have received from this book, I found it quite dull.

Holmes starts his account writing about his personal relationship with hot air ballooning and overall reasons he decided to write this book. I found this personal approach engaging and it helped me get over my initial disappointment about the nature of work before me. However, this is quickly interrupted by what the book eventually turns into-series of anecdotal stories of people who took to the skies. They offer no real personal point or observations by the author. Instead, these stories read like something that an enthusiastic history teacher would ask the class to read, but nobody really does.

The admiration Holmes has for these first pilots is apparent through his prose. However, my biggest criticism is that way too much focus is put on meticulous detailing of each balloon in terms of its size, the way it works and the trajectory it took. While I can understand the admiration for a new type of balloon or one that was extraordinary in some way, after a while, the technical details were lost on me. To be completely honest, at times, I would skim over them in attempts to move on to more exciting bits of the book. I wish I had learned more about the actual people that were brave (or crazy) enough to fly into the air at times when the chances of them returning in one piece were quite slim. Instead, it seems like the narrative was often stuck on far too many technical details about balloons. In addition, there were so many people in this book that at times it read like an almanac rather than gripping accounts of their lives and achievements.

Richard Holmes includes many interesting pictures as illustrations for his writing.
source: theguardian.com
“180” class=”size-medium wp-image-278″ /> Richard Holmes includes many interesting pictures as illustrations for his writing. [/caption]

Still, I am glad that I have got through this book as I love reading about pioneers in any admirable field and this is the one that I would never think of exploring. For that, I am grateful to Holmes and his research. For example, I was not aware of the role that balloonists had in the American Civil War or during the siege of Paris by the Prussians. I was also fascinated by the story of Swedish explorers that set out to reach the North Pole by balloon, which was the last story of the book. The somewhat shifted focus from the technical side of ballooning to the personal lives of people involved in it made it more compelling to me.

At the end, this was not the book written with readers like me in mind. I am a really big fan of historical fiction and firm believer that there is a lot of significant lessons we can all learn from these works. However, in most of the works I really enjoyed, authors put a lot of effort in attempts to interest their reader in the story and the particular period or the topic they are covering. While this book does not lack the author’s enthusiasm, I am afraid that unless you are as passionate about ballooning as Richard Holmes, this book will not make for a captivating read.

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