Excerpt from Inside The Sky by William Langewiesche, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Inside The Sky

A Meditation on Flight

by William Langewiesche

Inside The Sky
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Aug 1999, 255 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

I have a friend, a historian at Princeton University, who upon my return from a low-altitude flight up the Eastern seaboard denied that I had actually visited the places I had overflown--the farmed and citied coastal plain from Georgia to New Jersey and in between. I did not invite my friend's judgment, but he offered it anyway, argumentatively, because he could not shake a certain cramped sense of possession that he had acquired while driving the same route the summer before. He was a jealous sort of traveler, like those who return from tours convinced that theirs is the only authentic experience among the natives of some faraway land. Pilots are generally less-educated types, but they are more charitable about geography. In all my time among them, the endless hours sitting in cockpits and waiting around airports, I have never heard one speak small-mindedly of a landscape. Maybe because the aerial view is unrestrained, it can also be generous.

I offered to introduce my friend to it, not by following his road trip from above but by taking him on a shorter flight over Princeton, his hometown, where his sense of possession was justified. He accepted my offer, and on a crisp and sunlit morning was surprised by the density of the university campus, by the alignment of the streets, by the nearness of the New York skyline, by the extent of the new suburban forest. He was interested in the generational growth of office parks, the division of the farms, and the inflated architecture of new houses on small lots like the coming of California to the East. I thought, specialists may measure the increments of change on the ground and may in fact disdain the "naïveté" of the untutored aerial view, but with just one short flight almost anyone can read the outline of the story from up here--in this case, the conclusion of New Jersey's farming life. The aerial view is a democratic view. My friend was interested also in local details like the capricious turns of a certain Hopewell Valley road, and the full extent of a new golf course, and the pattern of old overgrown cow paths converging on a converted barn, and a hidden patch of wilderness by a brook, and the torn shingled roof of another professor's house. Each earned a comment. But he asked me to circle only when we came to his own house, built among others near an expensive day school. He was absorbed, as all people are, by the unexpected proportions and angles and by the strange lay of a familiar neighborhood.

"It's like seeing your face in the mirror for the first time," I suggested.

My friend did not answer. From riding the airlines, he insisted still on the airplane as just a better sort of train, and he was secretly proud of his impatience with the tedium of flight--such impatience being the mark of the modern traveler. In life he had crossed those thresholds of success and self-confidence beyond which he could not easily learn or change his mind. After we landed, he said he remained unconvinced. Of course. And he will not read this book, which is meant as a guide to a still unsettled place in the human experience. But during the flight he did not once turn away from the view of the old settled place, and that was a start.

The best aerial views are low views, but only down to a certain altitude, because there is also such a thing as flying too low to see. This happens at that height above the ground where, depending on the airplane's speed, the scenery rushes by too quickly. From the cockpit of a jet flown at treetop level at, say, 500 miles an hour, the rushing-by is sometimes described in schoolchild terms as a blur. In fact, to the accustomed eye the land remains visually distinct--a complex mix of definable points, of trees and houses and mountaintops. The points slide by in a spectrum of softening speed, from brutally fast directly below, to merely brisk one mile ahead, to not quite stationary up on the distant horizon. There is no blurring to it. You register the points coming in time, and can slow things down by looking a bit farther away.

Use of this excerpt from Inside the Sky by William Langewiesche may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by William Langewiesche. All rights reserved

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.