Winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prizeA monumental work of history, biography and adventure – the First World War, Mallory and Mount Everest – ten years in the writing. If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war.
Of the twenty-six British climbers who, on three expeditions (1921-24), walked 400 miles off the map to find and assault the highest mountain on Earth, twenty had seen the worst of the fighting: six had been severely wounded; two others nearly killed by disease at the Front; one hospitalized twice with shell shock; three army surgeons, who dealt for the duration with the agonies of the dying; two lost brothers, killed in action. All had endured the slaughter, the coughing of the guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead.
In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: 'The price of life is death.' Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation, death was but 'a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day'. As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much that it had no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive. For all of them Everest had become an exalted radiance, a sentinel in the sky, a symbol of hope in a world gone mad.
An Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, Wade Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and a PhD in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Davis is the author of 15 books including The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, and The Wayfinders. His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series produced for the National Geographic Channel. In 2009 he received the Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for his contributions to anthropology and conservation, and he is the 2011 recipient of the Explorers Medal, the highest award of the Explorers' Club, and the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration, the most prestigious prize for botanical exploration.
©2013 Wade Davis (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"I was captivated. Wade Davis has penned an exceptional book on an extraordinary generation. From the pathos of the trenches to the inevitable tragedies high on Everest this is a book deserving of awards." (Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void)
"Powerful and profound, a moving, epic masterpiece of literature, history, and hope." (Sunday Times)
"Brilliantly engrossing...a superb book... At once a group biography of remarkable characters snatched from oblivion, an instant classic of mountaineering literature, a study in imperial decline, and an epic of exploration." (Nigel Jones, Guardian)
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"Epic prize winner"
This book is quite unlike anything else that I have read. The main themes: the challenge of the mountain faced by the WW1 generation against the background of the Raj are all well described. Personally, I am not convinced that the awful experiences of the soldier involved has particular relevance to Everest but this book did win the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The one section of this very long book that dragged for me was the first expedition. The climax is compelling and very moving.
The narrator has a great voice, even when he has a cold. But he mispronounces some names (Passion-Deli, by far the worst example) in a way that I found jarring, a small but surprising fault. I felt the whole performance could have been better produced.
"Haunting, beautiful and fascinating"
You may have seen the grainy footage of Mallory and Irvine disappearing into the snowy vastness of Everest and the mystery of what happened to them afterwards has been enough to generate a whole series of investigations. But the genius of this book is the way it details how the whole climbing party got to that point from the Edwardian public school system via the carnage of the first world war. The war is presented as jaw droppingly awful and somehow Davis manages to find new ways to excite disgust and pity on a topic which has been written about endlessly. He goes on though to write touchingly about the aftermath of the war, the fallout for survivors and the bereaved and the place that mountain climbing played in the imagination of people who were left wholly changed by the experience of the first industrialised conflict. Once the action shifts to Everest there is plenty of interest to be found in the enormous isolation of the region and the overwhelming challenges faced by an expedition ludicrously under equipped by modern standards.
One passage that sums up the virtues of Davis as an author is the section dealing with those who wrote to the organisers of the first expedition asking to be included in the party. A lesser author might have had a bit of fun at the expense of the wide selection of totally unqualified volunteers who put themselves forward. Davis pays them the respect of telling a bit of their story to give the reader a sense of people who had really done something in the their lives and just wanted to experience adventure; like the guy who had been in action at the Front from the start of the war in 1914 right the way through to 1918 prior to staying on for a further year as the troops were demobilized. Davis takes the trouble to acknowledge that whatever his defficiencies as a mountaineer this is someone who was both incredibly brave and with much more than his fair share of luck.
It's hard to believe that there is a single interesting thing left to say about WW1 and Everest but this is an enormously rewarding listen.
This is certainly one of the "best" audiobooks I have ever listened to. I put best in quotation marks as it is very hard to compare to say a crime thriller or pure history. I am not surprised that it took 10 years to write as the scope is vast - from the depths of the trenches of the first world war to the heights of Everest.
I finished listening and I know that I will have to listen again as there is so much detail and information provided on the war, climbing and religion that I have certainly failed to take in quite a lot of it.
I do know one thing though, Mallory and his ilk, although perhaps driven in a way I can't really understand, are men who deserve respect (in the proper old fashioned use of the word) and really did feel that if they died while trying to achieve something they believed in utterly, it wasn't a waste.
"Amazing historical tour de force"
It gave a detailed historical background to the Everest expeditions of the 1920s, including the wartime experience of the main participants. This brought the famous names to life, allowing the listener to identify with their struggles.
It is hard to choose just one, but some of the descriptions of the first world war left me shocked and stunned; the writing was so vivid that I felt I was there.
I was irritated at the mispronounciation of most of the French place names, and also at the American style of saying dates (eg October one, rather than the first of October). But the pace was good and the speech clear..
The film has already been made! John Noel's Epic of Everest, made by one of the participants in the 1924 expedition, has just been remastered and released.
The only reason I am givng four stars and not five is that sometimes the details of the mountain geography were rather repetitive and confusing; this might have been easier to cope with in print, where you can go back a page or two to check things. But this is a minor criticism.
I would urge anyone nervous of the length of the book to go ahead; it is full of detail, sometimes quite difficult to retain, but at the end I felt I had lived through the whole experience. I think this book will stay with me long after most works of fiction have gone out of my mind.
From beginning to end it was interesting. The characters, whether you liked them or not, were real, and the history fascinating - amazing insights into how the First World War impacted society in general and men in particular.
Too many to mention.... I guess when Mallory's body was found.
Hugely. At times I laughed and at times I was awe-struck.
A long journey but I'd recommend it as a classic. Not many books are this well researched and this well written with characters that come alive.
This is a beautifully crafted book that captured my attention from start to finish. It has woven the First World War, Tibetan Buddhism and a stunning adventure story into a seamless masterpiece. I truly recommend this as a wonderful read and well worth the time.
Long but Very interesting factual worth listening too. Shows how hard the mountaineers pushed hard and the culture of their time
"Brilliant - Poignant and Gripping"
I started to read this in hard copy form while staying with friends over Christmas a year or so back but since the copy I was reading was not mine but a friend's, a Christmas present he was still reading himself, I figured I would grab it on Audible instead of waiting to borrow his copy. What a great decision that was.
Clearly any book that attempts to interweave the story of Mallory and Irvine's doomed Everest expedition with the experiences of many of the climbers in the First World War is not going to be an entirely cheery listen but the tone of Wade Davis' book is actually much lighter than one might expect while still managing to communicate the awful cruel waste of the War and the trauma of the events on Everest.
But the story is about so much more than just a mawkish exploration of death. The sections that cover these parts are uniformly excellent but they are not what stuck with me from the book. Much more memorable are the accounts of the early Western explorers and mappers of India, Nepal and Tibet, the accounts of the difficulties of travel in India in the early 20th century, the extraordinary attitudes of these men - so alien to the 21st century mind. It is a rich and varied narrative, by turns moving and uplifting, funny and informative.
While some of the story was familiar to me such as the last fated attempt on Everest and the experience of World War I, much was new such as Mallory's closeness to the Bloomsbury Set and the wider context of exploration in the Himalayas.
I fear this book will not get the audience it deserves due to being pigeonholed as just another climbing disaster story a la Touching the Void. This would be a crying shame as it is wrong to categorize it so narrowly and it really should be read or heard by everyone.
The wonderful descriptions of the geography and the various landmarks and passes desperately need a map to allow the reader to orient themselves. I found myself seeking out the original expedition reports on-line to look at the maps that are in the book.
Mallory obviously for his conflicted desire to be with his family and to conquer the mountain. Finch was the victim of the story and pretty badly treated by modern standards.
Lovely pace and delivery - a pleasant companion for the 28 hours it takes to listen to the book.
The descriptions of the suffering in the trenches and the lives that most had endured through 1914-18. It's humbling to be reminded of what that generation went through.
A classic tale set at the end of an empire, when class and breeding came face to face with thee raw power of nature. Stout britches and tweed jackets versus insurmountable odds. Genuine heroism when faced with the unknown. Stirring and thought provoking stuff.
"An Epic Adventure"
Amongst the best. Only beaten by the Hornblower series narrated by Christian Rodska.
Nothing as I have never before read a documentary story.
There was a great deal of historical information in the book which if not listened to could have been quite dry. Enn Reitel's narrative made the book a hugely enjoyable experience.
Perhaps a bit too long for one sitting but I looked forward to every time I took the dog for a walk and put my headphones on.
Even though I knew the eventual outcome, I did not know the details of Mallory's death. I found the personal details of not only the climbers but also the people responsible for making the attempt possible thoroughly fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the details of the war records of the climbers and planners.
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