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My Father, Frank: Unresting Spirit of Everest [Hardcover]

Tony Smythe
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2013
Frank Smythe's mountaineering achievements in the decade before the Second World War became a part of climbing history. His intensive Alpine climbing, followed by two Himalayan expeditions - to Kangchenjunga in 1930 and success the following year on Kamet, the highest summit then reached - became the prelude to Everest. And in 1933 on that great mountain, climbing alone and without supplementary oxygen he got to within 820 feet of the top, a record height before efforts were resumed post-war and Everest was climbed in 1953. And as a superb Himalayan finale, in 1937 he returned to the Indian Garhwal to climb difficult peaks up to 24,000 feet in a rapid lightweight style. The expeditions were central to his lifetime's work as a writer and photographer - 27 books and albums, together with numberless newspaper and magazine articles, intensive lecturing, radio broadcasts and a film. It was an output that made him a celebrity, a rare feat in the days before television and the internet. He had tens of thousands of readers and his name was familiar to perhaps millions of the general public. It was an incredible career, especially since he died at the early age of 48 after a serious illness in India. Frank Smythe was resolute in keeping his home life private, and few details of it emerged in his writings. It was a turbulent life, even from earliest childhood, and remained so, with ambition and impatience almost overwhelming him at times, and eventually this volatile mix, apart from alienating some more traditional members of the Alpine Club, would lead to the break-up of his marriage. Yet when he was among hills he became tranquil and inspired. Some fifty years after his death in 1949 one of his three sons, Tony, decided to write a full account of his father's life, an extraordinary story he believed was important historically and well worth telling. This book is the result.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Baton Wicks Publications; 2013 First Edition, First Printing edition (1 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1898573875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1898573876
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 359,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'This book is timely, well researched and written with the authority of a committed climber. The reader will be watching to see just how objective Frank's son will be and I can only compliment Tony Smythe on dealing with all the major events in his father's life in the most even-handed way. I found the quarrel between Smythe and Graham Brown one of the most interesting sections of the book for Tony's description of the climbing is riveting and his analysis of the disagreements masterful. The reader is left gripped - The book does not lack humour either, and I found myself smiling, sometimes laughing out loud.' --Doug Scott

'Frank could obviously be an awkward bloke, but I'm growing fond of him! Hugely impressed, a huge piece of work and very well written.' --Steve Dean

'Just received the second part of your magnificent book - it makes fine reading - All those years of incredible research with interesting findings have paid off - I was amazed about the number of accidents and illnesses he suffered in his short life ' --Richard Smythe (brother).

About the Author

Tony Smythe was born in 1934. After leaving school he joined the RAF, serving for eight years as a pilot, flying Canberras and Javelins before resigning to devote more time to climbing and travelling. He made numerous journeys, climbs and expeditions, giving lectures to schools and societies about his experiences in the Alps, Eastern Europe and Russia, Canada and Alaska, the Himalayas and South America. In later years he became a potter, making hand-thrown tableware on a wheel at his workshop in Oxfordshire before moving to the Lake District, where he could indulge his passion for paragliding more intensively. To see more of Scotland he set about completing the Munros, summiting the last in 2005, just 50 years after the first. He is the author of Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, a 'cult' book of the 1960s jointly produced with his photographer friend, John Cleare, and has written extensively for journals and magazines about his adventures. He is married, and he and his wife have a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read 16 Dec 2013
To all of us of a certain age Frank Smythe was one of our boyhood heroes along with Shipton
and Tilman. This book dispels some of the myths which grew up about our hero.

It is very well written and contains many surprises about the prewar mountaineering
scene. Above all it is scrupulously researched and presented honestly in a very balanced
manner which must have been difficulty considering the author is the son of our hero.

It is hair raising to realise that many of his climbs were done without crampons, involving a huge amount of step cutting. Only once in his sadly relatively short life did he use a piton for protection and then he thought he was cheating! What would he thought of all those fixed ropes on Everest.

This book compares very favourably with all the literature currently available on modern
mountaineering achievements.

Well worth the read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scales the heights and plumbs the depths 19 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book that is indeed about a famous mountaineer but it is far more than that. Tony Smythe has written a most unusual, highly readable and entertaining book about a tortured soul who achieves greatness. The beautifully described antics and adventures of an accomplished climber are but a foil to the real meat of the book which is an honest and yet sympathetic forensic dissection of Frank Smythe's true character. Tony, his son, pulls no punches but is not at all interested in a vacuous trashing of a reputation or rebellious daubings on headstones. The author is unfailingly
direct and fair and this allows the reader to hold up a mirror to their own decent impulses and darkest desires. This book is 5 stars all the way!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book 17 Dec 2013
Frank Smythe was hugely influential to many of us. His books reached out beyond the usual climbing audience, and inspired many to take up this enthralling sport. Tony Smythe has done a superb job of writing his father's biography, and his balanced treatment of this sometimes difficult character has revealed Frank Smythe to us at last.
Well worth buying, reading and keeping.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put this book down. 15 Dec 2013
Tony Smythe's wonderful biography of his father serves to define and place in historical context, this strange and enigmatic man who is a major figure in the history of British climbing and in the story of Everest.
Thoroughly researched, Tony Smythe presents a superbly balanced account of Frank Smythe's short life, both in the mountains and in a domestic context. It tackles the difficult emotional struggles Smythe encountered and outlines his superb achievements both in The Alps and the Himalayas. This is a biography that has been eagerly awaited and the wait has been well worth it. Beautifully written, this is the finest mountaineering biography we have read for many years.
My Father, Frank: Unresting Spirit of Everest
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have read several accounts of Frank Smythe's climbs, but not yet had
the opportunity to read any of his books. This biography of Frank is
written by one of his sons. It must be a difficult task writing about
your father. However, Tony Smythe has done a magnificent job. He
presents a rounded portrait of his father discussing his many great
achievements, but not glossing over his flaws.

I was particularly interested to read his account of the routes on the
Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, having done one of them myself. Even today
these climbs are big challenges. In the days before modern ice axes,
crampons and clothing they were even more of a challenge. The Brenva
Face is directly in the line of the rising sun. It's important to
climb quickly to be high on the face before the sun softens the snow
and the stonefall and avalanches start. Without knowing they could
complete the climb and retreat being difficult or impossible, I can
only admire their commitment. I was aware that Frank had fallen out
with T Graham Brown, who was his companion on the two Brenva Face
routes, but didn't know any of the details. This book explains the
origins of their quarrel and the extreme lengths to which Brown
carried it.

Franks achievements in the Himalaya are even more impressive. However,
the frequent expeditions came at a considerable cost to family
life. The author discusses these problems in an open and honest way,
without seeking to attribute blame.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The legend of Frank Smythe 11 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a great addition to mountaineering literature. Frank Smythe was a pioneering climber and a prolific author who was at the vanguard of pre-war climbing, along with Shipton and Tilman. Written by his son Tony, this book gives an extremely balanced view. It must be extremely difficult to write an unbiased and even biographer of your own father, but I feel that Tony Smythe has achieved this. He doesn't hide away from his flaws, but also tells the tale of his achievements too.

It's hard to know what impact the second world war had on the climbing careers of people such as Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton, Bill Tilman and Bill Murray, amongst others. It would appear that achievements may have been even greater and the development of climbing and mountaineering wouldn't have stalled.

Lovely book
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