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Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps
 
 

Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps [Kindle Edition]

Fergus Fleming
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £12.99
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Amazon.co.uk Review

There is a mathematical law which explains why you wait for ages for a bus to turn up and then two appear at the same time. This may be of small comfort to Fergus Fleming, whose Killing Dragons, a thoroughly engaging story of how the Alps were conquered--primarily by the British, has had some of its thunder stolen by another book, Jim Ring's equally excellent How The British Made the Alps which was published a month earlier. Inevitably the two books cover similar ground, but Fleming should not be too disappointed at not having cracked the market first as the Alps are his natural stomping ground. Fleming came to prominence last year with the publication of Barrow's Boys, the story of how the Navy sought to justify its budget in peacetime by organising a series of quasi-scientific expeditions to increasingly remote locations, and Killing Dragons is a natural successor. Fleming has a natural affinity for charming, buccaneering eccentrics and there are more than enough on offer here. He starts, understandably enough, with the early pioneers and the first ascent of Mont Blanc by Balmat and Paccard in 1786; this is chattily written and good fun with it, but the book steps up a gear with the arrival of the Brits, such as Tyndall and Whymper. In the early days of Alpine climbing, scientific endeavour was felt to be far more important than the conquest of the peaks, but the Brits stripped away these pretensions and turned the Alps into an adventure playground where rivalries were played out in the pursuit of glory. Fleming strikes a fine balance in his storytelling. He doesn't bore us with endless details of belays and rappels but he still conveys a sense of the technical difficulties involved. Most of all, though, he has a natural feel for what people want to read. When it comes to the conquest of the North Face of the Eiger he admits that the ascent doesn't strictly fall within his remit, but he tells it anyway as the story is so gripping. --John Crace

Amazon Review

There is a mathematical law which explains why you wait for ages for a bus to turn up and then two appear at the same time. This may be of small comfort to Fergus Fleming, whose Killing Dragons, a thoroughly engaging story of how the Alps were conquered--primarily by the British, has had some of its thunder stolen by another book, Jim Ring's equally excellent How The British Made the Alps which was published a month earlier. Inevitably the two books cover similar ground, but Fleming should not be too disappointed at not having cracked the market first as the Alps are his natural stomping ground. Fleming came to prominence last year with the publication of Barrow's Boys, the story of how the Navy sought to justify its budget in peacetime by organising a series of quasi-scientific expeditions to increasingly remote locations, and Killing Dragons is a natural successor. Fleming has a natural affinity for charming, buccaneering eccentrics and there are more than enough on offer here. He starts, understandably enough, with the early pioneers and the first ascent of Mont Blanc by Balmat and Paccard in 1786; this is chattily written and good fun with it, but the book steps up a gear with the arrival of the Brits, such as Tyndall and Whymper. In the early days of Alpine climbing, scientific endeavour was felt to be far more important than the conquest of the peaks, but the Brits stripped away these pretensions and turned the Alps into an adventure playground where rivalries were played out in the pursuit of glory. Fleming strikes a fine balance in his storytelling. He doesn't bore us with endless details of belays and rappels but he still conveys a sense of the technical difficulties involved. Most of all, though, he has a natural feel for what people want to read. When it comes to the conquest of the North Face of the Eiger he admits that the ascent doesn't strictly fall within his remit, but he tells it anyway as the story is so gripping. --John Crace

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2289 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (4 Aug 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0060JEHJU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #113,316 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is a strange book, which I was struggling with for the first
third or so but which improved greatly towards the end.
First, a few words about the style of the book, which was not exactly
what I had expected. It seems to me that Fleming is, first and
foremost, a historian: he obtains his sources, surveys & absorbs them,
and distills them into a work of his own. This is testified to by two
things: the extensive bibliography of books, journals, and letters at
the back of the book, and the frequest references to that bibliography
throughout the text. Indeed, you really get the feeling that
virtually every statement Fleming makes has its source on another
sheet of paper somewhere. That's fine, in fact it's probably better
than an unsubstantiated stream of commentary, but it did take a bit of
getting used to, personally.
Now for the subject matter. In general, the book is concerned with
two things: the "opening up" of the Alps, from before the Napoleonic
era until just prior to the second world war, and the development of
mountaineering as a pastime and concept. More specifically, the book
tells this story by concentrating (though not exclusively) on a small
number of key players and events. Although a lot of ground is
covered, there are three major sections, each concerning a particular
"phase" of mountaineering development.
The first major section concerns the conquest of Mont Blanc, the Alps'
highest peak, and mainly involves the characters Saussure, Pacard,
Bourrit, and Balmat. The second major section concerns the
Matterhorn, and mostly looks at Tyndall and Whymper.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars stirring stuff 16 Feb 2004
Format:Hardcover
I agree this is a thoroughly entertaining story, engagingly told.
I don't think it suffers at all by comparison with Jim Ring's book - I bought them both in a double purchase and in fact enjoyed Dragons more, simply because of its more anecdotal and witty narrative style. Ring's account - the rather more cheekily titled How the English Made the Alps (not "British" as described above) - is also well worth a read if you're interested in the subject. And for anyone put off by the Anglo-centric title, the author makes his excuses clear in the preface.
Killing Dragons gets off to a good start with the struggle to ascend Mont Blanc, and the eccentric characters determined to find fame doing so. The contrast here between the calm and worldly Saussure with the vain and faintly ridiculous Bourrits (father and son) is highly entertaining; as is the account of Balmat and Paccard's arduous ascent and fractious relationship. But it's the rivalry later on between Tyndall and Whymper on the Matterhorn that really grabs the attention. Stirring stuff.
Ultimately, I would have liked to see more detail on how the modern climbing/ski industries have changed the Alps - for better or worse - but to be fair this is really another book. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the mountains or exploration.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book in bitesize chunks. 21 Mar 2001
Format:Hardcover
"Killing Dragons" by Fergus Fleming is an excellent book for climbers, travellers and historians. It charts the exploration of the alps since records first began and is well researched and written. The author brings alive the climbers written about by adding in little bits of information which make them interesting. It also includes a very concise and useful bibliography in case you are interested in researching or just reading a bit more about the subject of mountaineering.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Fergus Fleming realy brings to life those larger than life characters who were obsessed with alpine exploration. The book is built up from a series of chapters that are roughtly chronological, but also feature a particular individual or group of climbers. Full of rich and interesting detail, the book is patently well researched.
It is quite chucklesome too. You will find yourself reading parts aloud to your friends and family, and smiling to yourself as you read the wry, warm, and humorous accounts.
If you have ever visited the alps, or are interested in social history and biography you will find this unputdownable.
Buy, read, enjoy, and bore all your friends about it!
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Format:Paperback
"Killing Dragons" is an engrossing series of portraits of men and mountains woven into a chronology of alpine exploration that spans 150 years. The bulk of the narrative focuses on two big, suggestive mountains - Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn - and their two principal suitors: de Saussure and Whymper. But there are delightful side roles for a whole throng of colourful characters such as Bourrit, Forbes, Tyndall, Ruskin, Stephen and Coolidge. Ultimately it's also a story about how surprisingly quickly and drastically man's relationship to nature can change: in barely two centuries the general mood regarding the mountain world switched from superstitious awe to scientific interest to exploratory zeal to nationalist competition to, ultimately, solipsistic thrill-seeking (which is still the dominant ethos today).

Fergus Fleming is a masterful storyteller with a penchant for tongue-in-cheeck humour, quirky details and the burlesque. In one or two cases it's even over the top, as when he inserts a footnote with a deadpan comment of Edward Whymper on the ubiquity of "crétins" (deformed, mentally handicapped people) and goitre sufferers in rural Alpine communities: "Let them be formed into regiments by themselves, brigaded together, and commanded by cretins. Think what esprit de corps they would have! Who could stand against them? Who would understand their tactics?" An example of a more successful gag comes when Fleming comments on the death of Coolidge who, after the demise of his beloved aunt Meta Brevoort, withdrew and became and quarrelsome, exasperatingly punctilious Alpine historian.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like mountainering books then this is a great addition to ...
If you like mountainering books then this is a great addition to your collection. I have read the book two or three times and it still is difficult to put down. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Robert J Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating
Fergus Fleming is very good at arranging his material. A fascinating insight into society at the time as well as the motivation of those who climb mountains. Read more
Published 5 months ago by 42again
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
I second what one of the other reviews said - "It is quite chucklesome too. You will find yourself reading parts aloud to your friends and family, and smiling to yourself". Read more
Published on 6 Jan 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable journey through Alpinism
Before I write a review I normally glance through the other reviews to try and be more generic. I suspect Fergus Fleming is one of those authors you either love or hate. Read more
Published on 5 Nov 2010 by A. S. Edwards
5.0 out of 5 stars Synopsis from back cover
In the eighteenth century the snowy and inaccessible peaks of the Alps were believed to be home to dragons and other fantastical monsters. Read more
Published on 29 Oct 2008 by Mary_10
2.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly dull and tedious
I bought this book with high hopes of reading tales of adventure and exploration of the Alps, but came away feeling rather disappointed. Read more
Published on 1 July 2002 by M. J. Hale
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, hilarious, tragic
Fergus Fleming's "Killing Dragons" is a fantastic book. Mr Fleming deals with his subject with consumate ease, serving up pragraphs that are at the same time informative,... Read more
Published on 9 April 2002 by stewart.curran@hymans.co.uk
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting tales of success and failure in the alps
A good feel for the historical attitudes toward the alps. More importantly a very exciting read with very personal stories of success or failure on the mountains. Read more
Published on 9 Jan 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Appraisal of the Alpine pioneers
Killing Dragons discusses the characteristics of the Alpine pioneers. Unfortunately the focus is very much on their negative characteristics. Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2001
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