Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Balloonist

As promised, Saturday and Sunday were bitter cold, down toward zero Fahrenheit by day, probably below that during the wee hours. But, as the weather nerds remind us, not as low as things can go. Luckily, I wasn't in town in January 1994 for the most recent below -20 F day in metro Chicago. I was in Osaka at the time. Come to think of it, however, that winter was the only one I saw snow in that city -- just a dusting one day, but enough to throw tiny snowballs.

So far The Balloonist (2007) by Stephen Poleskie, a book I picked up last week, is fairly interesting. With any luck, as I read on, it will evolve into damn interesting reading. That's what I'm looking for in a book these grim winter days, or anytime. With a subtitle like this, you'd hope the book would qualify: "The Story of T.S.C. Lowe -- Inventor, Scientist, Magician, and Father of the U.S. Air Force."

Chapter one is promising, beginning in medias res with an account of the first flight of one of Lowe's balloons, the mammoth Great Western, in the summer of 1860 from near Philadelphia to somewhere in New Jersey. Lowe and his two companions went so high they were lucky they didn't die of hypoxia, which wasn't understood at the time.

The lack of footnotes is a little troublesome -- nice to see them there, even if I don't examine every one in detail -- and you'd think there would be a few pages of photographs in a book like this. But anyway, so far, so good. A book about a flamboyant 19th-century balloonist is going to get my attention for a while.


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