Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind
is the most interesting of the crop of books published to mark the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Everest. Macfarlane is both a mountaineer and a scholar. Consequently we get more than just a chronicle of climbs. He interweaves accounts of his own adventurous ascents with those of pioneers such as George Mallory, and in with an erudite discussion of how mountains became such a preoccupation for the modern western imagination.
The book is organised around a series of features of mountaineering--glaciers, summits, unknown ranges--and each chapter explores the scientific, artistic and cultural discoveries and fashions that accompanied exploration. The contributions of assorted geologists, romantic poets, landscape artists, entrepreneurs, gallant amateurs and military cartographers are described with perceptive clarity. The book climaxes with an account of Mallory's fateful ascent on Everest in 1924, one of the most famous instances of an obsessive pursuit. Macfarlane is well-placed to describe it since it is one he shares.
MacFarlane's own stories of perilous treks and assaults in the Alps, the Cairngorms and the Tian Shan mountains between China and Kazakhstan are compelling. Readers who enjoyed Francis Spufford's masterly I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination will enjoy Mountains of the Mind. This is a slighter volume than Spufford's and it loses in depth what it gains in range, but for an insight into the moody, male world of mountaineering past and present it is invaluable. --Miles Taylor
'A seriously good book' -- P.J. Kavanagh, The Spectator
'An imaginative, original essay in cultural history - a book that evokes as well as investigates the fear and wonder of high places' -- William Fiennes
'He is an engaging writer, his commentary, always crisp and relevant, leavened by personal experience beautifully related -- Observer
'He writes with tremendous maturity, elegance and control. A powerful debut, a remarkable blend of passion and scholarship -- Evening Standard
'The sort of book that restores confidence in the travel genre. Erudite, full of information and charged with passion' -- Robyn Davidson
A distinguished book that jolted my heart. Adventurous, passionate, intensely romantic...fizzes with insights into the sublime madness of mountaineering -- Roger Deakin
An impressive first book -- John Carey, Sunday Times
Extremely elegant and compelling
a book which comes very much from the heart, and is informed throughout by Macfarlanes own passion' -- Sunday Telegraph
If you have ever wondered why people climb mountains, then here is your answer. A brilliant book,beautifully written -- Fergus Fleming
Vivid and original...Intelligent without being academic, the writing contains many pleasures, and made me want to be out there again in snow, wind and rain -- Andrew Greig