Birds are not obligated to show up at an airport one hour prior to flight, nor must they fasten seatbelts for takeoff and landing. Is it any wonder that, 102 years after the Wright Brothers brought us the first practical plane, our urge to soar like falcons is still alive and well? While few people indulge that fantasy except in dreams, Michael Abrams has discovered that the present-day heirs to Daedalus and Icarus, far from suicidal, are as diligent and methodical in their pioneering work as were Wilbur and Orville. “After some 3,000 years of failure,” he writes with the solid reporting and polished storytelling of a veteran journalist, “we are living in a veritable renaissance of personal flight.” For most of those 3,000 years, would-be fliers generally met their fate in costumes of feathers. In scientifically minded ancient Greece, however, criminals were sometimes tied to live birds and experimentally pushed off cliffs. Even Leonardo da Vinci supposedly tried to fly—using a protean glider—and might have succeeded: “Once you have tasted flight,” he wrote, “you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return.” Michigan native Clem Sohn was the first to make that round-trip on a regular basis, dropping from a plane at air shows beginning in the early ’30s, and—although he was dead in less than a decade—his cloth wing-suit, fashioned on his mother’s sewing machine, inspired the garb now used by hundreds of recreational birdmen worldwide. Gradual refinement of equipment and technique has made personal flight more commonplace, and less deadly than ever before. Still, commercial airlines need not worry: Soaring is good sport, but no amount of arm waving will get a birdman aloft in the first place. —JONATHON KEATS, ForbesLife
“A joyous, quirky, witty, totally inspiring book about falling through the air and dying. Abrams has captured the lunatic passion of these birdmen with so much insight and intelligence and infectious enthusiasm that risking your neck to fly through a cloud with your arms outstretched no longer seems unreasonable.” —Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Spook
From the Hardcover edition.