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.

The books I picked & why

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Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

By Richard Holmes,

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

Why 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.

Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

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…


The Romance of Ballooning: The Story of the Early Aeronauts

By Edita Lausanne,

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

Why 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.

The Romance of Ballooning: The Story of the Early Aeronauts

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.


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

By Fulgence Marion,

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

Why 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. 

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

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…


Balloonomania Belles: Daredevil Divas Who First Took to the Sky

By Sharon Wright,

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

Why 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.

Balloonomania Belles: Daredevil Divas Who First Took to the Sky

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…


The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck

By Matt Phelan,

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

Why 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!

The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck

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.

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in hot air balloons, France, and Paris?

7,000+ 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 6 books about hot air balloons
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Paris Explore 251 books about Paris

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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