Viking, $29.95 pb, 244 pp
In 1685, in São Paulo, Brazil, a boy was born called Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão. Sent north to Bahia to study with the Jesuits, who had constructed, in the steep-cliffed port of Salvador, an amazing ‘levador’ capable of hauling goods and people from ground-level to the heights above, Bartolomeu learned as much about physics as theology. Finding the fathers’ dedication to higher things, both spiritual and material, immensely attractive, Bartolomeu became a priest who dreamed of building not just a hundred-metre lift, but the first vessel capable of sailing through the heavens. The ambition stayed with him even in Portugal.