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Book review: The Man with his Head in the Clouds, by Richard O. Smith

2014 is, apparently, the year for history-inspired biographies. In The Man with his Head in the Clouds, Richard O. Smith follows the chaotic and brilliant life of James Sadler – pioneer of lighter-than-air flight and mobile steam engines. The book makes you wonder, more than anything, why Sadler is not more of a household name, for his is a life of whimsy, adventure and humour; one that saw the uneducated pastry chef crashing balloons into the Thames and various parts of Yorkshire, sometimes accompanied by a cat, sometimes not.

The author is at once the polar opposite of Sadler and the perfect man to write his story. Smith is a comic writer who contributes to shows such as Radio 4’s The Now Show and Dara O’Briain’s Science Club, and it at first seemed strange that Smith’s story not only competes with Sadler’s, but pulls focus. His attempts to tame his various phobias, from stairs to heights, are surprisingly endearing. Smith aims to complete his trials by attempting a hot air balloon ride that mirrors one of Sadler’s – a neat end to what is otherwise a chaotic and hilarious read.

The Man with his Head in the Clouds, by Richard O. Smith, is published by Signal Books, £14.99. To order a copy, call 01608 641033 or email

The man with his head in the clouds

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