The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire

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The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Three generations of the same family aspired to go higher, deeper and further than any human had gone before.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781780720890

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The Explorer Gene relates the remarkable story of three generations of the Piccard family, each of whom managed to push the boundaries of travel and break new frontiers. The grandfather, Auguste Piccard was the first human to enter the stratosphere, using en experimental balloon of his own invention. His later work, designing submarines, enabled his son Jacques to become the first person to descend to the bottom of the infamous Mariana trench, setting a world record for the deepest dive. Grandson Bertrand became the first person to fly around the world in a balloon and now seeks to break new records by means of a solar-powered craft that he intends to pilot all the way around the earth.

Each story shows the trials and difficulties faced by those seeking to pioneer these new, revolutionary forms of transport. In each case, there was a very real risk of losing one’s life during the record attempt as much of the early technology used in the construction of each vessel was experimental. Auguste and Jacques had to have complete faith that the numbers on paper were correct, as a minor mistake in calculations could result in an horrific death. Another problem that the Piccards encountered was a lack of interest in their projects and insufficient funding, which often left them near the brink of bankruptcy. Lesser men may have given up, but the inimitable Piccard spirit enabled them to persevere and see their dreams come to fruition.

I enjoyed reading about each expedition, although I did find that the text got rather technical in places and I would have liked to have read more about the personal lives of the Piccards and the influences that drove them to persevere despite setbacks. Relationships are touched on, but rarely expanded upon, with the majority of the narrative being dedicated to technical specifications of the craft involved in each project, which did get a little heavy at times.

Another problem I had with the book was the lack of pictures. This kind of book would really benefit from a full-colour spread in the centre, but instead contains a mere handful of black and white images. One chapter describes the luxurious, modern interior of the mesoscaphe, the Ben Franklin, but sadly there are no photographs provided to compliment the description.

The Piccards were passionate about the tales of Jules Verne and took those ideas and made them a reality. It was a privilege to read about the adventures of this inspiring family. The balloon race was nail-biting stuff and Bertrand could have been Mr Phileas Fogg himself, racing against time. With the Piccard adventures inspiring the writers of Star Trek to name a certain starship captain after them, who knows where the explorer gene will take the next generation of Piccards?

For more information on the background and life of Bertrand's balloon-racing nemesis, read Branson by Tom Bower. Or, for a rip-roaring fictional account of adventures in the sky, try Airman by Eoin Colfer

Buy The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire at

Buy The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire at


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