Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykham-Fiennes was once described by his prospective father-in-law as "Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know." He is also described by the Guinness Book of Records as "the world's greatest living explorer" and this is the major part of the story of his life. I say `part' because, since this book was published in 2008, Ran Fiennes (as he is known) finally conquered Everest - at the age of 65!, in early 2009.
Throughout the book there is one single overriding quality which stands out above all others; For all the accolades poured upon this man, few bother to mention the fact that he is an engaging writer with the gift of capturing the reader's attention. Whether he is white-water rafting or walking to the South Pole, he has the knack of including his readers as part of the team and takes them along for the ride. This is why this book is so hard to put down.
It is an honest account of the life of someone unable to sit still. From his earliest recollections and formative years we move on to his service as an officer with 22 SAS and being required to leave after some exuberant exploits with explosives (and a betrayal by the press!) from where he later re-emerges as a Trooper (private soldier) in one the SAS reserve squadrons. An illuminating account of his active service in Oman is followed by an even more exciting narrative in which, his team travelled along some of the most dangerous and uncharted rivers in the world from the Yukon to the USA as a celebration of British Columbia's centenary. He was also considered by Cubby Broccoli for the part of James Bond!
The next 16 chapters are filled with expeditions and explorations too numerous to mention here. They include his circumnavigating the globe via both Poles, his use of an old hacksaw to saw off the ends of two fingers lost to frostbite and so many other achievements and hardships it is difficult to believe they were all undertaken by one man. Liberally filled with anecdotal accounts - such as the briefest explanation of the Royal Scots Greys, this book answers questions I had not yet asked.
Throughout it all, however, there comes across an image of the man himself and of his love for his family. In an excellently crafted autobiography, we meet Ginny, his childhood sweetheart and later the wife he almost never won. We continuously learn of her active involvement and support in his many exploits until we finally discover her own unsuccessful fight against cancer. Her passing is recorded with such simple honesty that no reader will fail to feel her loss as though she were one of their own family. The darkness which followed is such that we find great relief in seeing this fine person eventually able to continue his life as before. Completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, he just persists in exciting and astounding those who observe. By the time he finds a new love and a new family, we have become so close to this "central character" that we find ourselves experiencing relief and wishing him well.
On finishing this, quite amazing, story, I was left with the clear impression that somehow this was only the beginning and that more was to come. Already, he has finally conquered Everest but I doubt that even that magnificent feat will be the finale to this man's performance in the role of living his own life. Of one thing, however, I can be certain; Nobody will record his feats better than the man himself and I eagerly await part two of this incredible journey. This book cannot disappoint any reader.