“Oh Excellent Air Bag”

Under the Influence of Nitrous Oxide, 1799–1920

Paperback / 216mm x 140mm / 144 pages
70lb/105gsm paper / introductory essay / colour images

“Wonderful … edited with wit and imagination”
The Guardian

“An eye-opening compilation … enthralling”
The Paris Review


“Nothing exists but thoughts!—the universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures and pains!”

The summer of 1799 saw a new fad take root in a certain circle of British society: the inhalation of nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”. The pioneer of these experiments was a young Humphry Davy, future President of the Royal Society, whose descriptions of being under the influence, as well as those penned by his clique, are among the most remarkable in the history of science. From its subsequent use in “laughing gas shows” through to its eventual employment in anaesthetics, the “delectable air” would go on to inspire more than a century of extraordinary writings that combined the scientific, the poetic, and the philosophical in a wholly new way. This volume collects the most striking examples of both these first-hand accounts and the secondary literature they spawned, including writings by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, William James, and Theodore Dreiser. Far from the images of balloon-huffing festival-goers and post-dental nonsense that nitrous oxide tends to conjure today, this unique anthology reveals the fascinating pedigree of the gas — a history at the very heart of the romantic movement and one of the great early blooms of psychedelic literature.

In addition to the historical texts, the volume boasts a new introductory essay by Mike Jay and an extensive selection of images, including instructional material from early anaesthetic handbooks, and satirical prints from the likes of James Gilray and George Cruikshank. All printed on a lovely-to-handle 70lb/105gsm paper.

“I was an inhabitant of the Elysium of Rousseau, or the island of Calypso, of Fenelon, blown by a rudely malicious blast into a world of reptiles”





Place your Order

Choose currency:
USD or

$14 (+ $5 shipping)


£12 (+ £3 shipping)


* If your bank account is not linked to either USD or GBP, please pay in GBP, your payment will simply be converted from your local currency at no additional charge.

** All payments will be processed safely and securely. This page is secured with an SSL certificate ensuring your card information is safe.

See more of our books on the main “PDR Press” page.


Will payment be secure? – Yes, the payment will be processed safely and securely. This page is secured with an SSL certificate ensuring that your card information is kept safe.

When will the book arrive? – UK orders should expect a time of around 2 weeks, and for non-UK destinations it should be around 3 or 4 weeks. We know this is a long time to wait but we don’t currently have the resources to do it another way. (Need to change your delivery address? No problem, just email Adam at pdrpress@publicdomainreview.org)

If I want to buy a number of different books can I pay for them all together? – If paying by card they will have to be purchased separately. If paying using PayPal you can bundle them together in the same transaction. For both methods of payment, multiple copies of the same book can be purchased together in one transaction.

Will I have to pay import/customs fees on the delivery? – UK orders will not, and for other destinations it is extremely unlikely. Books do not incur import duty in most countries around the world and other charges such as VAT are unlikely for orders as small as 1 or 2 books, but for larger orders there is a chance. Please see your local customs laws for more information.

I have an idea for something to publish through the PDR Press, can I get in touch? – If you’d like to talk about possibilities for collaboration then please contact Adam on pdrpress@publicdomainreview.org.