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Reading: Matt Higgins' Bird Dreams

Monday, December 1 @ 7PM

Matt Higgins
BIRD DREAM: Adventures at the Extremes of Human Flight
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 ex-treme 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 stranger—wearing a cunning new jumpsuit featuring “wings” between the arms and legs—leaped from a ledge and then actually flew from the vertiginous cliffs. This dude’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 miles—using little more than their bodies—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 pilots—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 exploits—which entranced mil-lions of fans along the way—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 “wingsuit landing,” 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 Connery—a forty-two-year-old Englishman—who was quietly plotting to beat Corliss at his own game. Ac-companied by an international cast of wingsuit devotees—including a Finnish magician, a para-chute tester from Brazil, an Australian computer programmer, a gruff hang-gliding champion-turned-aeronautical engineer, a French skydiving champion, and a South African costume de-signer—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, Higgins’s Bird Dream is a riveting, adrenaline-fueled adventure at the very edge of human experience.

“Gripping… 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.” -Daily Beast “In Bird Dream, Matt Higgins cracks open this astonishingly dangerous sport and captures the spectacular adrenaline surges it delivers… [A] riveting tale.” -The Wall Street Journal
Matt Higgins is a freelance journalist and the author of Bird Dream: Adventures at the Ex-tremes of Human Flight (The Penguin Press, 2014). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, ESPN the Magazine, The Village Voice, Popular Mechanics, The Buffalo News, and ESPN.com, among many other sites and publications. He has reported from four continents, and while on assignment has surfed in Hawaii, skateboarded in China, skydived over Florida, ridden a snowboard down a glacier in California, and talked politics and pot with Hunter S. Thompson. He has worked as a paperboy, dishwasher, busboy, landscaper, maintenance man at a marina, social studies teacher, a clerk at a bank and a law firm, and answered calls at a telephone tech support center. He is also the author of the reference, Insider’s Guide to Action Sports (Scholastic). He lives near his hometown of Buffalo with his wife and their sons.

Photo by Anne Higgins
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