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208 × 156 mm
296 pages
79 illustrations
01 Jul 2017

Levitation The Science, Myth and Magic of Suspension Peter Adey

Levitation tells the peculiar story of those who have dreamed, believed or practised levitation, whether they were successful or not. Levitation could be thought of best as a pre- and parallel history of aviation, but it is not really about flights of the aeronautical kind. Instead, the book tracks the long-standing belief that we could float relatively unaided. Early modern scientists believed in the force of levity as an opposing force to gravity. Traditional societies have held deep-rooted shamanic traditions of spirit- and dream-flight through storytelling. Ancient religious movements have long believed in the power of ascetic saints to hover in sublime ecstasy. Magicians and mesmerists have employed the tricks of stage, cinema and the enigma of Eastern traditions to convince audiences of their power to lift through thought alone. And science-fiction novelists and urban planners have speculated on floating cities hovering high above the earth. Many artists have experimented with levitation too, from the Surrealists to Yves Klein.

In this book Peter Adey explores the idea of levitation within our cultural, scientific and spiritual lives. From science to illustration, poetry, philosophy, law, technology and a wider popular, spiritual and visual imagin­ation, Levitation casts the levitator as a far more vulnerable figure than we may have thought.

‘[a] brilliant book . . . Adey’s prose rises above academic discourse to create a phantasmagorical cultural history . . . As sly and strange as its subject, Adey's book is an ambiguous, allusive and fascinating manual of unassisted flight, and I only wish I had it to hand when I was a ten-year-old would-be levitator.’ – New Statesman

‘Adey’s aerial archive is vast; his insights, compelling’ – Critical Inquiry

‘Buddha’s vertical takeoff does not appear in Peter Adey’s Levitation, but scores of other elevations do. Adey’s book is exhilaratingly wide-ranging and it is crammed with the sorts of beguiling oddities that would have made Buddha tut in disapproval.’ – Literary Review

‘This wide-ranging and well illustrated study is not so much about incidents of levitation as about the ideas of floating, rising up and moving through the air, drawing examples from philosophy, religion, magic, science and popular culture. Adey writes engagingly as he reveals the remarkable depth and extent of these ideas, how they have become embedded in human society, and how they have manifested or been expressed . . . From the power of ascetic saints and surrealist art to flying superheroes and astronauts in null-gravity, through today’s CGI tricks with camera or computer, and even further into the future with hovering cities, Adey keeps you thinking.’ – Fortean Times

‘An exploration of the cultural and political meaning of floating and levitating in the air, Levitation is an extraordinary book. Ranging across philosophy, theology, popular culture and science, the book is a sublime revelation of how the air, and what floats in it and on it, have shaped human societies. A mesmerising and beautifully illustrated book.’ – Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society, Newcastle University

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Peter Adey is Professor of Human Geography, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London. His previous titles include Air (Reaktion, 2014), Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects (2010) and Mobility (2009).