The best books about being lighter than air and above it all

Who am I?

As an avid student of curious social history, I’ve wanted to tell the story of early flight for a while. A friend once took me up in a hot-air balloon for my birthday, and I’ve been a balloonomaniac ever since. I’ll never forget the awe I felt that morning in Vermont—the sensation of drifting softly above it all, passing spirit-like through orange-pink clouds just after sunrise with the muffled bark of a distant dog the only sound for miles. It was, to quote Sophie Blanchard, a “sensation incomparable.” 

I wrote...

Lady Icarus: Balloonmania and the Brief, Bold Life of Sophie Blanchard

By Deborah Noyes,

Book cover of Lady Icarus: Balloonmania and the Brief, Bold Life of Sophie Blanchard

What is my book about?

Before Amelia Earhart, there was French aeronaut Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to earn her living in the air. While no one knows the fate of Earhart, a terrified crowd looked on as Sophie Blanchard met her end in a tragic blaze of glory over the streets of Paris in 1819. But first, Blanchard made nearly 70 spectacular flights, survived a revolution, and became a court favorite of the emperor Napoleon and later the King of France. A product of the balloonomania that swept Europe in the late 18th century—inspiring countless artists, authors, and dreamers—Blanchard was a frightened, nervous girl who became a fearless legend in the skies. Her story, set against the thrilling backdrop of early human flight, is richly illustrated with more than 50 images.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

Deborah Noyes Why did I love this book?

I was already a fan of Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, and there was some overlap in this book, in the best sense—since what could be more wondrous or terrifying than humans taking flight for the first time. Falling Upwards became the definitive history for me while I researched my book for younger readers. It captures the human experience of flight in a lively, character-rich narrative with philosophical heft, straddling—as did early ballooning—science and spectacle. It’s an elegant, rollicking story built over a scaffold of sound scholarship. I couldn’t put it down.

By Richard Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Falling Upwards as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Nominally a history of the hot air balloon, 'Falling Upwards' is really a history of hope and fantasy - and the quixotic characters who disobeyed that most fundamental laws of physics and gave humans flight' New Republic, Best Books of 2013

CHOSEN AS BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR IN ** Guardian ** New Statesman ** Daily Telegraph ** New Republic ** TIME Magazine 10 Top Nonfiction Books of 2013 ** The New Republic Best Books of 2013 ** Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**

From ambitious scientists rising above the clouds to test the air, to brave generals floating…

Book cover of The Romance of Ballooning: The Story of the Early Aeronauts

Deborah Noyes Why did I love this book?

This oversized coffee-table book is an archival treasure trove: a collection of primary source materials—contemporary articles, letters, broadsheets, and other rare material—arranged chronologically and packed with line drawings and spectacular full-color plates. The author lets the painstakingly harvested entries speak for themselves, with little comment or imposed context beyond the archival images, and the result is a rich tribute to the art of ballooning and its practitioners. Beautifully curated and visually dazzling, this is a browser’s delight.

By Edita Lausanne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Romance of Ballooning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hard cover unique book fully illustrated about the romance of ballooning.

Book cover of Wonderful Balloon Ascents, or the Conquest of the Skies: A History of Balloons and Balloon Voyages

Deborah Noyes Why did I love this book?

I love the gossipy tone of Fulgence Marion’s 1870 tribute to aeronautical history and its heroes. It’s a lofty enterprise (anchored to the authorial “we”) but somehow feels intimate or even snarky at times, as if the author managed to be on hand for each ascent. You can almost imagine him peering over the shoulder of the aeronauts, explaining or challenging the flight “science” all the way. Wikipedia notes that Marion was the pen name of French astronomer and science fiction writer Camille Flammarion, a contemporary of Jules Vernes, which makes sense, but I can’t confirm it, so let’s just say that Marion (and/or his translator) is a wry observer, and the stellar line art is worth the price of admission. 

By Fulgence Marion,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wonderful Balloon Ascents, or the Conquest of the Skies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from Wonderful Balloon Ascents, or the Conquest of the Skies: A History of Balloons and Balloon Voyages

Maréchal Villeroi, an octogenarian and an invalid, was conducted to one of the windows of the Tuileries, almost. By force, for he did not believe in balloons. The balloon, meanwhile, detached itself from its moorings; the physician Charles, seated in the car, gaily saluted the public, and was then majestically launched into space in his air-boat and at once the old maréchal, beholding this, passed suddenly from unbelief to perfect faith in aerostatics and in the capacity Of the human mind, fell…

Book cover of Balloonomania Belles: Daredevil Divas Who First Took to the Sky

Deborah Noyes Why did I love this book?

Also a bit gossipy or wink-wink in tone, Wright’s feminist take on early flight is good fun. She narrates the hair-raising adventures of female pioneers of balloon flight—from feisty French teenager Elisabeth Thible, the first woman in the air, to charismatic British actress Leticia Ann Sage, whom one newspaper credited with “that manly fortitude which constitutes the heroine.” Wright presents a memorable cast of women who were all willing and well able—whether for a day or for decades—to brave life in the upper stories. She narrates, too, how they did it despite danger and scandal, at a time when women had few options or outlets for challenging themselves personally or professionally.

By Sharon Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Balloonomania Belles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_Balloonomania Belles_ reveals the astonishing stories of the fabulous female pioneers of balloon flight. More than a century before the first aeroplane women were heading for the heavens in crazy, inspired contraptions that could bring death or glory and all too often, both. Award-winning journalist Sharon Wright reveals their hair-raising adventures in a book that brings the stories of the feisty female ballooning heroines together for the first time. Women were in the vanguard of the Balloonomania craze that took hold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and swept across Europe then the world. Their exploits were a vital element…

Book cover of The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck

Deborah Noyes Why did I love this book?

Now for something completely different. My own book is for middle-grade readers, so I wanted to include another younger title, and it was perfect timing that this rollicking adventure crossed my path when it did. Hilariously droll, Phelan’s illustrated fiction stars characters lauded for their pivotal role in early flight—the three barnyard aeronauts who made the very first ascent in a hot-air balloon. But their career didn’t end there: the sheep, the rooster, and the duck went on to battle injustice, defeat dastardly villains, and expose nefarious plots against society. Phelan’s extraordinary farm animals are more than fearless aeronauts: they’re covert superheroes in a world of sinister secret societies, Benjamin Franklin, and the world’s first heat-ray. High-flying fun!

By Matt Phelan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

“A grand, giddy, and, at times, literally soaring tale.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An amusing, fast-paced tale of land, sky, and spies.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Incredibly creative. . . . A little bit of history, a touch of mystery, and heaps of fun.”—Booklist (starred review)

A Publishers Weekly Best Book

Wherever there is injustice, nefarious plots, or threats to society, the Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck are there to stop them!

A sly villain with a plan to cause havoc across the globe is no match for three extraordinary animals—and their two young human friends. From acclaimed author and artist…

You might also like...

The Olympus Project

By Zoe Routh,

Book cover of The Olympus Project

Zoe Routh Author Of The Olympus Project

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Leadership futurist Adventurist Former bellydancer Historical and speculative fiction nut Marathoner

Zoe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The future is uncertain, and the stakes are high. Climate change has wreaked havoc on the planet, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. The only hope lies in the Olympus Project, a plan to colonise the moon and build on the Artemis Base.

Led by three of the best and brightest--Troy Bruin, Xavier Consus, and Xanthe Waters--they must battle both winner-take-all competition and their own differences in order to save humanity from destruction. But even as they search for a way to reconcile, a secret organisation is lurking in the shadows, threatening to extinguish their efforts and ensure humanity's downfall.

A gripping tale of leadership, ambition, and the indomitable human spirit.

The Olympus Project

By Zoe Routh,

What is this book about?

***WINNER: GOLD MEDAL in Fiction - Thriller - Environmental, Readers' Favorite Awards 2023***

They are the best. The brightest. The hope of humanity.

And they might destroy us all…

The future. Climate change has rendered much of the world desolate. Crops are failing. Rising seas have flooded coastal communities. The earth is dying, and humanity careens toward extinction.

Enter the Olympus Project—a plan to colonise the moon, building on the Artemis Base, led by three of humankind’s best and brightest: Troy Bruin, Xavier Consus, and Xanthe Waters.

But even the best and brightest can fall prey to humanity’s failing. Soon…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in hot air balloons, France, and Paris?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about hot air balloons, France, and Paris.

Hot Air Balloons Explore 9 books about hot air balloons
France Explore 857 books about France
Paris Explore 340 books about Paris