Magazine article The Spectator

The Higher the Fewer

Magazine article The Spectator

The Higher the Fewer

Article excerpt

THE MAN WHO TOUCHED THE SKY by Johnny Acton Hodder, 14.99, pp. 250, ISBN 0340819324

What to do if you plan a book whose essence is a single parachute drop? And what to do if, apparently, that particular parachutist was not deeply committed to the book? Similarly, if your two previous books have been Soup and Mushroom, and if your career has involved theology, minicab-driving, obituary writing, and founding a chain of soup bars, how can you detail the physics and technology embodied in such a subject as high-altitude parachuting? This actual drop was no casual tumble from the skies, being the highest ever such descent, starting at 102,000 feet above the earth and landing safely in New Mexico on 16 August 1960. No one has ever dropped so far in all the years since then, and only Joseph W. Kittinger has ever fallen for 4 minutes and 38 seconds before the opening of his parachute.

Surprisingly, bearing everything in mind, such as the book's single highlight and the author's earlier experience with soup rather than the stratosphere, it is an extremely worthy production. It digs deeply into the precursors of that solitary venture. It tells well of the hideously alien world a mere 19 miles above our heads. And it is certainly exciting about the jump itself, the frightening event forming the book's crucial ingredient.

Faced with the wish to turn one episode into a couple of hundred pages, Johnny Acton does not so much pad his book as start it from the earliest beginnings that he could find. …

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