The Eiger is a 3970 m mountain that looms above Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. Its north face has been quite literally a ca. 2000 meter-high 'vertical arena'. Although the mountain itself was first climbed in 1858 by Charles Barrington, Christian Almer, and Peter Bohren, the north face ('Nordwand' in German) was not conquered until 1938 (when Heinrich Harrer, Anderl Heckmair, Fritz Kasparek, and Wiggerl Vörg were finally successful). In the early 1930s, it was deemed one of the 'last remaining problems' of the Alps and was truly a 'vertical area', as onlookers (including reporters who made sure the rest of the world was also able to vicariously participate) were able to follow the progress of several tragic expeditions from the comfort of the patio of a hotel on an easily-accessible meadow far below. Part of the great difficulty of the climb is that the wall's north-facing aspect means that it remains snow- and ice-covered year round. The rotten rock and ice that coats the Nordwand makes things even more complicated and afternoon rock avalanches are common and treacherous. The weather is also extremely unpredictable and changeable, a condition that is caused in part by the fact that the wall is part of the northern boundary of the Alps.
The combination of extremely challenging climbing conditions with high visibility has led to a century of high drama centered about the Eiger's north face and this book does an excellent job of summarizing many aspects of this highly notorious and celebrated mountain. The book consists of an eclectic collection of short chapters by different authors about different aspects of the Eiger (and not just the north face). Each chapter is named after one of the distinctive points along the first successful route, but tells a different aspect of the story. Chapters include descriptions of the varied routes, the myriad tragedies and dramatic rescues, the debates about the morality of even attempting to climb the mountain, the controversial politics of the first successful climbers (one of whom, Heinrich Harrer, carried a Nazi flag with him), a summary of the Eiger's appearances in books and the movies, tales of people who skied and snowboarded down the mountain, and the uniquely Swiss engineering feat that is the railway tunnel bored through the mountain and on up to the Jungfrau Joch. There is also a section at the end providing information for visitors (including suggestions for alternative walks and climbs in the area for those who would rather wear sandals or are otherwise not quite ready for the north face itself) and an extensive bibliography.
My favorite feature of the book is the fantastic and abundant illustrations that range from dramatic contemporary photographs to historical photographs to artwork of various sorts, all of which serve to nicely complement the text. I should mention, however, that the quality of the printing appears to be a bit worse in the English edition than in the German-language original, which probably will detract a bit from the impact of the pictures.