In this heart-lifting book, the Romantic biographer Richard Holmes floats across the world following the pioneer generation of balloon aeronauts, from the first heroic experiments of the 1780s to the tragic attempt to fly a balloon to the North Pole in the 1890s.
In a compelling adventure story, dramatic sequences include an unscheduled early flight over the North Sea, the crazy firework flights of beautiful Sophie Blanchard and the heart-stopping escape of two families from East Germany.
Early balloons also played a role in warfare - with the legendary tale of sixty balloons that escaped Paris during the Prussian siege of 1870, and a memorable flight by General Custer in the American Civil War.
These are stories where scientific genius combines with extraordinary courage and the power of an imagination that dares to claim the airy kingdom for itself.
Episode 2 (of 5):
What earthly use is a balloon? Early scientists struggled to grasp the opportunities offered by flight but, in turbulent times, the military were quick to make the most of aerial reconnaissance.
Read by Rory Kinnear
Abridged and Produced by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.