Synopses & Reviews
"[R]iveting... a must-read. A highflying, electrifying story of a treacherous sport in which every triumph is an eye blink away from becoming a disaster." --Kirkus (STARRED)
A heart-stopping narrative of risk and courage, Bird Dream tells the story of the remarkable men and women who pioneered the latest advances in aerial explorationand#151;from skydiving to BASE jumping to wingsuit flyingand#151;and made history with their daring.
Bird Dream shows that recent decades have witnessed an unprecedented revolution in human flight. By the end of the twentieth century BASE jumping was the most dangerous of all the extreme sports, with thrill-seeking jumpers parachuting from bridges, mountains, radio towers, and even skyscrapers. Despite numerous fatalities and legal skirmishes, BASE jumpers like Jeb Corliss of California thought they had discovered the ultimate rush. But all this changed for Corliss in 1999, when, high in the mountains of northern Italy, he and other jumpers watched in wonder as a strangerand#151;wearing a cunning new jumpsuit featuring and#147;wingsand#8221; between the arms and legsand#151;leaped from a ledge and then actually flew from the vertiginous cliffs. This dudeand#8217;s flying, thought Corliss with a start. This changes everything.
What Corliss had witnessed was a wingsuit, an innovation more flying squirrel than bird or plane. Wingsuits were not new; they had fascinated men for centuries. Yet a modern design had improved safety and performance, allowing wingsuit pilots to leap from a helicopter or high cliff and soar for milesand#151;using little more than their bodiesand#151;before deploying a parachute to reach the ground safely. The best pilots could fly close to the earth, rapidly navigating narrow canyons and mountain ranges. Still, colossal dangers remained, and the beauty of exploring human flight with such unprecedented grace would exact the ultimate cost for some pilotsand#151;they would pay with their lives.
Drawing on intimate access to Corliss and other top pilots from around the globe, Bird Dream tracks the evolution of the wingsuit movement through the larger than life characters who, in an age of viral video, forced the sport onto the world stage. Their exploitsand#151;which entranced millions of fans along the wayand#151;defied imagination. They were flying; not like the Wright brothers, but the way we do in our dreams.
Some dared to dream of going further yet, to a day when a wingsuit pilot might fly, and land, all without a parachute. A growing number of wingsuit pilots began plotting ways in which a human being might leap from the sky and land. A half dozen groups around the world were dedicated to this quest for a and#147;wingsuit landing,and#8221; conjuring the pursuit of nations that once inspired the race to first summit Everest.
Given his fame as a stuntman, the brash, publicity-hungry Corliss remained the popular favorite to claim the first landing. Yet Bird Dream also tracks the path of another man, Gary Conneryand#151;a forty-two-year-old Englishmanand#151;who was quietly plotting to beat Corliss at his own game. Accompanied by an international cast of wingsuit devoteesand#151;including a Finnish magician, a parachute tester from Brazil, an Australian computer programmer, a gruff hang-gliding champion-turned-aeronautical engineer, a French skydiving champion, and a South African costume designerand#151;Corliss and Connery raced to leap into the unknown, a contest that would lead to triumph for one and nearly cost the other his life.
Based on five years of firsthand reporting and original interviews, Bird Dream is the work of journalist Matt Higgins, who traveled the world alongside these extraordinary men and women as they jumped and flew in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Offering a behind-the-scenes take on some of the most spectacular and disastrous events of the wingsuit movement, Higginsand#8217;s Bird Dream is a riveting, adrenaline-fueled adventure at the very edge of human experience.
Library Journal (STARRED)
"[A]ction-packed... An engrossing and exhaustively researched account of extremists who challenge failure and death on a regular basis. Highly recommended."
SUSAN CASEY, author of The Wave and The Deviland#8217;s Teeth
and#147;Most of us dream of flying, but it is the exceptional person who actually tries it. Matt Higgins takes readers deep into the extreme and fascinating world of BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots, those rare birds who risk their lives for a few exhilarating, gravity-defying seconds. Bird Dream is a beautifully crafted narrative, equal parts adrenaline rush and soulful meditation. From its first sentence, this book soars.and#8221;
"A new tribe of aerial daredevils write their deeds in blood and glory in this bracing if windy extreme sports saga. Journalist Higgins sings the exploits and charisma of 'wing-suit' pilots, who leap from airplanes and high places and glide through the air in a nylon getup that gives them the shape and aerodynamic advantages of a flying squirrel. His loose narrative follows two wing suiters in their quest to become the first to land (safely) without a parachute: mediagenic superstar Jeb Corliss, bald and resplendent in an all-black outfit with silver skull buttons, wants to build a million-dollar landing slope; meanwhile, his rival, Gary Connery, an unknown stuntman, conceives a bargain-basement scheme to land in a pile of cardboard boxes. The book is mainly a chronicle of death-defying stunts: mishaps are plenty grisly when wing suiters traveling at 100 mph encounter anything denser than air, and the body count is high. It's also an inchoate tribute to the exaltation of defying death; one extreme parachutist 'felt somehow reborn into the world' on his first outing, 'as if scales had been stripped from his eyes.' These effusions won't move everyone to a conversion experience, but Higgins's account is hair-raising enough to hold the reader's interest. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
and#8220;Grippingand#8230; In a way that shocked me, the book is perversely entertaining when Higgins reveals the fates of many of the men and women he writes about with such admiration. Higgins manages to keep the reader hooked all the way through to the final page. In a truly intoxicating read that was hard to put down, Matt Higgins has managed to make real a world about as far removed from daily life as it gets.and#8221;
The Wall Street Journal:
"In Bird Dream, Matt Higgins cracks open this astonishingly dangerous sport and captures the spectacular adrenaline surges it delivers... [A] riveting tale."
and#8220;[A] compelling chronicle of the extreme sport subculture of those who love soaring, gliding and plummeting to the earth from a wide range of deadly heights. Higgins has inherently thrilling material on his hands, but he does much more than merely describe the adrenaline-charged feats of jumpers. The book is a subtle study of the psychology of athletes engaged in a sport where death is a constant possibility.and#8221;
The Washington Post
"In Bird Dream, Matt Higgins offers an engrossing account of the men and women who pursue the most dangerous recreational activity imaginable, one in which a razor-thin line separates success from failure, life from death... While Higgins fills Bird Dream with fascinating characters, living and dead, the focus is on two wingsuiters determined to achieve the ultimate goal of jumping from a helicopter or an elevated spot and gliding down to a survivable landing without a parachute... Does either of them survive? You will find the answers to those questions in a book you will find hard to put down."
"The breathtaking highs and life-threatening plunges of the most extreme stuntmen on Earth. Keep your mixed martial arts, parcours and BMX bikes; you havenand#8217;t seen anything until youand#8217;ve seen the point-of-view video of these free-flying pilots soaring in their homemade wingsuits over some of the most extreme terrain on the planet. In this riveting journalistic account, freelance writer Higgins chronicles the evolution of the sport from simple parachuting to BASE jumping (the acronym stands for building, antennae, span and Earth, which serve as launch points) to the development of these soaring, superherolike armored flight suits... For anyone who finds these kinds of emotional and precise accounts of risk, ambition and victory irresistible, this is a must-read. A highflying, electrifying story of a treacherous sport in which every triumph is an eye blink away from becoming a disaster."
Library Journal (STARRED)
"[Higgins's] action-packed book introduces a global coterie of remarkable characters who have dared life and limb. He describes escapades from Sixties stunt parachuting to more contemporary BASE jumping, in which one takes flight off of selected worldwide buildings and geographical points to the experience of wingsuit flyingand#8212;the maximum challenge. The author recounts the huge preparations, financial investments, psychological motivations, personal setbacks, and extraordinary aerial accomplishments that have gone into these extreme sports... An engrossing and exhaustively researched account of extremists who challenge failure and death on a regular basis. Highly recommended for ultimate jumpers in particular, sports enthusiasts in general, and all public libraries.
"A new tribe of aerial daredevils write their deeds in blood and glory... Journalist Higgins sings the exploits and charisma of and#8220;wing-suitand#8221; pilots... The book is mainly a chronicle of death-defying stunts: mishaps are plenty grisly when wing suiters traveling at 100 mph encounter anything denser than air, and the body count is high... [a] tribute to the exaltation of defying death; one extreme parachutist and#8220;felt somehow reborn into the worldand#8221; on his first outing, and#8220;as if scales had been stripped from his eyes.and#8221; These effusions wonand#8217;t move everyone to a conversion experience, but Higginsand#8217;s account is hair-raising enough to hold the readerand#8217;s interest."
SUSAN CASEY, author of The Wave and The Deviland#8217;s Teeth
and#8220;Most of us dream of flying, but it is the exceptional person who actually tries it. Matt Higgins takes readers deep into the extreme and fascinating world of BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots, those rare birds who risk their lives for a few exhilarating, gravity-defying seconds. Bird Dream is a beautifully crafted narrative, equal parts adrenaline rush and soulful meditation. From its first sentence, this book soars.and#8221;
JAMES M. TABOR, author of Blind Descent
and#8220;Wingsuit fliers like Jeb Corliss and Gary Connery change the definition of and#8216;impossible,and#8217; often at the expense of life and limb. Capturing the essence of such entrepreneurs of the extreme is like trying to grab sparks. In Bird Dream, Matt Higgins does just that with writing that is
crisp, exhilarating, and exhaustively researched. A must-read about ultimate questsand#8212;and their costs.and#8221;
JAMES S. HIRSCH, author of Willie Mays
and#8220;Some people dare to imagine human flight; others dare to don wingsuits and leap birdlike into the void. A breathtaking narrative of outsized courage and irreverent boundary breaking, Matt Higginsand#8217;s Bird Dream captures human jumps that defy the rational mind, that duel with gravityand#8217;s inexorable pull, and that tango with the ever-present threat of dismemberment and death.and#8221;
JOE DRAPE, author of Our Boys
and#8220;Matt Higgins takes us on a thrilling ride with an international cast of visionaries, daredevils, and flat-out wingnuts who are pushing the limits of human flight. Higgins weaves a compelling tale that leaves us awestruck and inspired by those who refuse to be constrained by earthly boundaries.and#8221;
STEPH DAVIS, climber, BASE jumper, wingsuit pilot; author of Learning to Fly
and#8220;Bird Dream is Born to Run for the wingsuit BASE world. Matt Higgins has managed to straddle the difficult line between maintaining authenticity for insiders and opening this fringe lifestyle to outsiders. As a dedicated jumper myself, I found Bird Dream compelling and absolutely undiluted.and#8221;
A gripping chronicle of skydivers, BASE jumpers, and the latest aerial pioneers on the edge
Human flight is one of the last great challenges on Earth. Not like how the Wright brothers flew, but how we fly in our dreams.
This is the goal of the Wingsuit Landing Project: to soar through the sky at speeds up to 100 mph, over distances up to four and a half miles, and to land without the aid of a parachute. At least half a dozen groups around the globe have taken part, from France, South Africa, Australia, Russia, and Britain to the United States. This project is the creation of thirty-seven-year-old adrenaline-seeking Jeb Corliss, Jr., a Southern Californian who seeks to emulate a mode of flight more like a flying squirrel than bird or plane. The possibilities of the wingsuit concept have captured the human imagination from the mythical Icarus to beloved character Wile E. Coyotebut the results have usually been disastrous. New designs developed over the past two decades have made the wingsuit slightly safer and more predictable, but immense dangers still remain.
Journalist Matt Higgins gained intimate access to wingsuit pioneer Corliss; a brash, publicity-hungry rich kid from LA who, after years of BASE jumping and skydiving, set out to be the first person to be dropped 2,400 feet and land solely with the aid of a wingsuit. But somewhere in the UK, a forty-two-year-old man of average means was plotting to beat Corliss at his own $3 million game. His name was Gary Connery. Along with an international group of wingsuit devoteesincluding a Finnish magician, a parachute tester from Brazil, an Australian computer programmer, a gruff former Hollywood stuntman-turned aeronautical engineer, a French skydiving champion, and a South African costume designerCorliss and Connery race to leap into the unknown as the worlds foremost wingsuit pilots. This race will nearly cost one of the competitors his life.
Bird Dream is a riveting, adrenaline-fueled narrative about a group of unforgettable characters who risk everything to achieve mans age-old dream of flying. Chronicling everything from stunt parachuting in 1960s Hollywood to BASE jumping off landmark buildings in Manhattan to wingsuit flying in South America, Bird Dream takes readers to the cutting edge of this new frontieras well as the strange science and fearless history that have led us to this remarkable point in the human experience.
About the Author
MATT HIGGINS's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Village Voice, Popular Mechanics, Outside, and ESPN Magazine. He is the author of several books on sports for young readers. He lives in western New York with his wife and two sons.