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The Impossible Climb

Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life
Narrated by: Mark Deakins
Length: 12 hrs and 59 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (120 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Instant National Best Seller

New York Times Monthly Best Seller

One of the 10 Best Books of March - Paste Magazine

A deeply reported insider perspective of Alex Honnold’s historic achievement and the culture and history of climbing.

“One of the most compelling accounts of a climb and the climbing ethos that I've ever read.” (Sebastian Junger)

In Mark Synnott’s unique window on the ethos of climbing, his friend Alex Honnold’s astonishing “free solo” ascent of El Capitan’s 3,000 feet of sheer granite is the central act. When Honnold topped out at 9:28 a.m. on June 3, 2017, having spent fewer than four hours on his historic ascent, the world gave a collective gasp. The New York Times described it as “one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.” 

Synnott’s personal history of his own obsession with climbing since he was a teenager - through professional climbing triumphs and defeats and the dilemmas they render - makes this a  deeply reported, enchanting revelation about living life to the fullest. What are we doing if not an impossible climb?

Synnott delves into a raggedy culture that emerged decades earlier during Yosemite’s Golden Age, when pioneering climbers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding invented the sport that Honnold would turn on its ear. Painting an authentic, wry portrait of climbing history and profiling Yosemite heroes and the harlequin tribes of climbers known as the Stonemasters and the Stone Monkeys, Synnott weaves in his own experiences with poignant insight and wit: Tensions burst on the mile-high northwest face of Pakistan’s Great Trango Tower; fellow climber Jimmy Chin miraculously persuades an official in the Borneo jungle to allow Honnold’s first foreign expedition, led by Synnott, to continue; armed bandits accost the same trio at the foot of a tower in the Chad desert....

The Impossible Climb is an emotional drama driven by people exploring the limits of human potential and seeking a perfect, choreographed dance with nature. Honnold dared far beyond the ordinary, beyond any climber in history. But this story of sublime heights is really about all of us. Who doesn’t need to face down fear and make the most of the time we have?

©2019 Mark Synnott (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A thrills-and-chills - and occasional spills - view of the mad heroes of free climbing.... Fans of mountaineering will find this a winner.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Readers will pick up this for Honnold but will be equally engrossed by Synnott’s own adventures and writing.” (Library Journal)

“Yes, The Impossible Climb is the gripping story of the most perilous rock ascent of all time - but it’s much more than that. In seamlessly fusing memoir, reporting, social history, climbing lore, technical expertise, and intimate glimpses of his tribe, Mark Synnott has given us a kind of epic of life on the edge. Even readers who have never set toe to rock are going to find themselves glued to this insanely brilliant account of extreme athletic ambition and endurance.” (David Laskin, author of The Children’s Blizzard)

“Bracing...brings Honnold’s epic, rope-free ascent to vivid life.” (Harper's Bazaar)

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Missed opportunity...

This book could have been better if it contained more about Alex Honnold and less about the author. Alex Honnold was preparing for and performing one of the most significant climbs in history, a climb that seems to have transcended the sport itself. To chronicle this, Mr. Synnott fills a large portion of his book with a conglomeration of articles and talks from his past, as well as common rock climbing history already detailed in many other books and videos. Although Mr. Synnott has pre-knowledge of the climb months in advance, and he has access to Alex before and after the climb, his writing about the climb in the last chapter seems shallow and adds little insight, especially if you have already seen the film. It really feels like a missed opportunity by the author, and it left me as a reader wanting more.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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The book should be called "Climbing Life"

The book is ok, but the title is misleading and simply clickbait. Mark Synnott writes more about other events in his life and the life of other climbers than he does Alex Honnold. Feels like the author is just trying to capitalize on Alex's current mainstream popularity. If this book was called "A climbers life" and looked at the lives of people who became world-class climbers it could have been a better book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating For Non-Climbers

a wonderful book for a complete climbing dunce. I didn't know the history of climbing so this book was neat.

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Like reading between the lines.

This book was awesome. I have been reading and following many of the climber’s stories mentioned in this book for years.

This was a fresh take on the climbing life, and also filled the little gaps in some of these more common stories.

It makes the stories of histories great ascents seem so personal and funny. It lets you know that although these guys and gals are doing unfathomable things, they’re all just quirky normal humans like the rest of us.

Mark is a great writer and story teller. I was sad when the book ended. Give it a read or a listen!

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Amazingly written story!

An outstanding account of much more than just the free solo of El Cap that can be throroughly enjoyed by climbers and non climber alike!

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climbing is life!

Super good book! Now watch the documentary free solo. Nail biting, edge of your seat, exciting content! I highly recommend this book!

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A Work of Climbing Art

A well-written backstage look at Alex Honnold’s incredible journey and free solo climb of El Capitan intertwined with detailed history and personal climbing accounts from the author. This book flowed perfectly for me, and I felt I was sitting at a picnic table in Yosemite hearing the stories from a friend. A must read/listen for any climbing enthusiast.

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A pinch of everything!

Readers have to understand that this book is a pinch of everything and not just solely focused on Honnold’s free solo of the Cap. That being said, it is well done! Great climbing stories. As a non climber this book appeals to everyone. I won’t spoil it but it also includes some things not seen in the movie. Great job Synnott!

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Great book. Great narration.

My copy of the book was late coming to me in the mail so I got the audio book to start. When my book came I alternated between reading the book at night, and listening to the book during the day. I really enjoyed the book: it gave great insight into the life of professional climbers through author Mark Synnott’s personal history, gave a rounded look at climbing history, climbing evolution, and ethos, and seamlessly wove in the story of Alex Honnold, his climbing life and his historic climb.

Great performance by the narrator, Mark Deakins.
I would highly recommend both the book and the audio book.

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  • TR
  • 03-16-19

I know very little about the climbing world, but

I know very little about the climbing world, but found this fascinating. I by chance did a climb on Seneca Rock but I'm not a fan of heights. I am real big on outdoor activities though. I will listen to this audible again and even research some of the places mentioned for climbing in the book. Some of them sound like interesting places to visit. On my one climbing experience I will admit I was very charged up after the climb. I can see why this would be an addicting activity for those who really pursue it. I can also see where this is very similar to runner's High which I have experienced several times. very thought-provoking. highly recommend. author did a great job.