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Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination [Paperback]

Robert Macfarlane
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2008
Why do so many feel compelled to risk their lives climbing mountains? During the climbing season, one person a day dies in the Alps, and more people die climbing in this season in Scotland than they do on the roads. "Mountains of the Mind" pursues a fascinating investigation into our emotional and imaginative responses to mountains, and how these have changed over the last few centuries. It is rich with literary and historical references, and punctuated by beautifully written descriptions of the author's own climbing experiences. There are chapters on glaciers, geology, the pursuit of fear, the desire to explore the unknown, and the desire to get to the summit, and the book ends with a gripping account of Mallory's attempt on Everest. "Mountains of the Mind" is a beautifully written synthesis of climbing memoir and cultural history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (1 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080394
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003), won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Robert Macfarlane is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He lives in Cambridge with his family.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'Macfarlane writes very well - he loves the mountains as much as anyone - very personal - everyone should read it' Trail 'The most exhilarating history of mountaineering - less the tale of how mountains got climbed than the story of why they became objects of such fascination to us - a riveting read' Jeremy Paxman, Guardian Summer Reads 'Of all the books published to mark the 50th anniversary of climbing Mount Everest, Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind stands out as by far the most intelligent and interesting - he can be as poetic as he is plucky' --Economist

A dramatic, richly imagined look at our fascination with mountains. --Sunday Times Cultures' 100 Books to Love

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant; philosophy meets poetry 25 July 2003
Format:Hardcover
I came on line to write an independent review of this brilliant book, but then I saw the review by the reader from Fort William, and it made me rethink what I was going to say. First of all, it's important to say that this is top-class book; a totally new kind of writing about mountains. Second off, it's not just a book about mountains, but about how history works, why people behave the way they do towards different types of landscapes, how we think the world into being, and what issues like guilt, love and betrayal mean when looked at in historical and not just individual terms. in many ways, this is a book of philosophy and poetry, rather than a history of mountaineering, which is perhaps why some people - including the reviewer from Fort William - have been disappointed. It's obvious that Macfarlne isn't a top-drawer climber; he never says that he is in the book, and anyone who knows anything about serious mountaineering could tell he's not. So there's no secret, or misdescription there. The point is, I think, that eveyrone who goes to the mountains goes to them because, in some sense, they love the way they look, and so this book does answer the big WHY question.
This is all a bit jumbled. But, in conclusion: this is a very special book, in the tradition of writers like Bruce Chatwin and Barry Lopez in the way it works simultaneously with adventures and ideas, and in the way it thinks about the wild, physical world. READ IT if you love history, language or, indeed, mountains.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Every time there is a spectacular death in the hills, the old question starts up a babbling again: WHY DO THEY (mountain climbers) DO IT? The answers lies less in ``because the mountains are there'' -- and more, from the deepest psychological quandaries of ``who am I?''. Adventure jocks rarely talk in such metaphysical and existstential terms -- and clearly a good number of them have no time for MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND which has rightly turned to poetry and philosophy for both the language and cultural parrallels that ultimately humanises mountain mystique. I say humanizes... because the game itself is full of people wjho see themselves as more than human, superhuman, separate from the rabble. This is a terrific book.
The other great book that readers either love or hate becauise of its literary and philosophical references and explorations is Peter Hillary's surprisingly brilliant IN THE GHOST COUNTRY (written with philosopher and poet John Elder). It goes even further than MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND by adopting a powerful and sometimes intimidating language of myth and dreams to articulate powerfully the psychological and emotional frailties and motivations of men driven to the edge. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but could have been taken further 1 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback
This book has had largely positive reviews and I echo most of the positive comments. Indeed I would add that the content is compelling and my attention was held to the end as I was looking forward to how the theme would be further developed.

The author has been criticised by some for being more of a scholar than a climber. The suggestion is that as he does not come from the first division of risk takers on the mountains he can not speak authoritatively.

I do not think that the criticism stands. The quality of the work depends on taking a broad approach and there can be no question that the work is well researched.

The case study of Mallory is perhaps open to the charge of repeating information that is well known; however, it does highlight and illustrate the riddle of why a man with so much to live for should gamble his life away. And I think that there was at least an approach to an answer, that for many their experience in the mountains is of being more fully alive - making the rest of life seem drab by comparison; better to die living than not to live at all.

Where I was disappointed was that the focus was almost entirely on the elite mountaineer; why do folk attempt Everest (or K2)? This excludes the experience of the vast majority of lovers of the mountains, some of whom will not even climb them. I think he could have considered the ordinary folk and emotions such as friendship with the hills or feelings of belonging or "coming home".

I was pleased that there was some attempt to bring in the special link with animals that are genuinely wild, but felt that more could have been said about the joy of meeting truly wild animals in a shared environment.

In summary it is a great book, but could have been developed further.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mind has mountains... 15 Oct 2003
By Jokerman VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
This stunning, magnificent, elegantly written book is one of the best books I've read this year. Some reviewers are entirely missing the point. Yes, of course it's about mountains and mountaineering - at its basic level. But its real concerns resonate so much more broadly and deeply. It's about history and geology, natural history and philosophy, literature and poetry; and it's about culture and psychology and self-discovery. And ultimately, after a meticulously woven argument bringing all these threads together, it's about tragedy, and about knowledge and about love. As another reviewer acutely observed, Macfarlane, like Hopkins, encounters the particular nature of things, and celebrates it, in language that's enormously potent, imaginative, and wide-ranging in imagery and vocabulary. Yet these writerly techniques never even for one moment get in the way of meaning or accessibility. It's at all times page-turningly readable. And the chapters just get better and better throughout. In short, it's a work of art. I just can't wait for his next book - whatever it's about.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars MACFARLANE
GREAT WRITER
Published 21 days ago by mrmacu@hotmail.com
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fascinating and hugely enjoyable
Published 1 month ago by Viktor Wynd
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great
Published 1 month ago by FrancisKy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
brilliant
Published 1 month ago by Valerie
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking history of men and mountains
Fascinating history of man's relationship with the mountains and his motivation for climbing them. The final chapter relating the story of Mallory and Everest is slightly out of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. J. Gauld
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Piece of Writing
Brilliant, the best thing I've read since Paddy Leigh Fermour. The penultimate chapter, on Mallory's final, fatal ascent of Everest, is an astounding piece of writing.
Published 2 months ago by Our Man on the Horn
5.0 out of 5 stars For the thinking climber.
Learned, thoughtful, intriguing. I am now starting another one of MacFarlanes, 'Wild Places'. What more can I say? But it!
Published 4 months ago by Raindog
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
One of the most interesting books I ever read about mountains, with new insights and perspectives that I never really thought of till now.
Published 5 months ago by Epurescu P. Cosmin
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Helped me understand the minds and motivation of mountaineers, their bravery and foolhardiness. A Well written and well researched book.
Published 6 months ago by Samanatta
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read for anyone who loves Mountains
A great read, this mixes a history of how Mountains were perceived (from dark, dangerous places frequented by monsters to places of leisure and relaxation) throughout history and a... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. Saxby
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