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The K2 Man (and His Molluscs): The Extraordinary Life of Haversham Godwin-Austen [Illustrated] [Hardcover]

Catherine Moorehead , Rob Burns , Rhoda Burns
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Oct 2013
'Probably the greatest mountaineer of his day,' claimed Kenneth Mason in his definitive mountaineering history, Abode of Snow. Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923), from an ancient and interesting Surrey aristocratic family with royal connections, not only found the first way to the 'savage mountain', K2, but went on to be the first serious explorer of the Karakoram, Ladakh, Western Tibet, Bhutan, Northern Burma and Assam. He broke the Asiatic high-altitude mountaineering record three times, using a 'garden hatchet' as an ice-axe, saw his assistant killed by headhunters and socialised with everyone from his 'coolies' to the Maharajah of Kashmir. Back in England, he became one of the UK's greatest Natural Historians, a Darwinist collector among collectors of geological and ornithological specimens. His collection of freshwater molluscs forms the basis of all modern science in the subject. And he became one of the UK's greatest surveyors, covering over 22,000 square miles of new territory, including 23 new glaciers and at least two dozen first ascents of peaks over 5000m. Remarkably, he also found time to paint a vast portfolio of watercolours, including the first close sighting of K2, described by the British Library as a 'national treasure'. (Several of these watercolours are illustrated in this book.) His personal life was equally interesting: three marriages - to an Afghan landowner's daughter, an English socialite, then a civil servant's daughter 23 years younger than himself - was complicated by religious conversions from Anglicanism to Islam then to Buddhism. His strong character as a scholar at great London institutions such as the Natural History Museum is still the stuff of legend, while his bankruptcy in later life required the selling of the 'family pile', the magnificent, royally-furnished Shalford Park. And thanks to a youthful indiscretion in Kashmir, he harboured a dark secret which came back to haunt him near the end of his long and colourful life. This is the first and authorised biography of an outstanding man. Godwin-Austen's private papers are being made public for the first time. They prove that he was one of the UK's greatest explorers, on a par with Sir Richard Burton, and surpassing the explorations of David Livingstone, Captain Cook or Captain Scott. For mountaineers, scientists, students of biography and historians of the Raj and the Great Game, this biography offers new and and original material - a 'must' for the explorer's bookshelf.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: In Pinn (14 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906000581
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906000585
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 600,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Catherine Moorehead started life in Nairn,'the Brighton of the North', near Inverness. Educated at the very good local state school, Nairn Academy, and then as a Scholar at Gordonstoun, she progressed to an Hons MA in Eng Lang and Lit at Edinburgh University. After a couple of years teaching in France, she went on to teach English at a succession of state and private schools, finishing with the humorous but serious title of 'Mistress of Scholars' at the Royal Grammar School Guildford, the alma mater of her biography subject, Haversham Godwin-Austen.

When not writing and trying to promote real teaching, her main outside interest is hill-walking and mountaineering, having led six expeditions to unexplored parts of Central Asia, and completing her Munros in 1996. Otherwise, she enjoys reading, gastronomy, astronomy, erratically-played chess and expanding her wine and whisky collections. She also founded, at her present school, the RumDoodle Society (see the School's website), dedicated to hill-walking and conviviality.

Catherine is an Associate Member of the Alpine Club and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

She is shaping her life towards retirement in Scotland, still the most beautiful of the thirty-seven countries she has visited.

Product Description

About the Author

Catherine Moorehead was educated and brought up in Scotland. She teaches English at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. She has climbed all the Munros, lead six expeditions to Central Asia and run the RumDoodle Mountaineering Society. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an Associate Member of the Alpine Club.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Research 4 Jan 2014
By Portia
This is the most extraordinarily researched and detailed book. Godwin-Austen was a Victorian explorer who was the first to map K2 (which used to be known as Mount Godwin-Austen). The author has been given access to all the original papers, diaries and watercolours still in the family collection, and the result is a fascinating account of a victorian family and an amazing explorer. There are numerous wonderful stories about the man, his family and his friends as well as the wonderful and exotic places he visited. There are beautiful prints of some of the watercolours included. Small print and lots to digest: not a book to read in one sitting, but a wonderful book to dip into.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Miss Moorehead's biography of one of the most unfairly under-discussed explorers and mountaineers of his age is a beautifully written first tome. She has managed to draw together the many varied aspects of Godwin-Austen's private life (most intriguingly his three wives) and fit them seamlessly into the extended narrative and analysis of his astonishingly varied career as a surveyor in the subcontinent and beyond, as a scientist and natural historian in England and later in life as an eminent public figure in his ancestral home county of Surrey. The biography is interspersed by Moorehead with pithy and amusing insights into Godwin-Austen's personality, including parallels drawn with moments or characters in literature and the many similarities apparent in Moorehead's life.

Coming at her subject with an evidently strong mountaineering background herself, Moorehead provides a detailed description of Godwin-Austen's expeditions, especially the historic surveying and mapping of the Karakoram , which led to his discovery of a route to K2, the world's second highest and hardest mountain, as well as numerous first ascents of peaks in excess of 5000 meters, and his claiming of the world altitude record. She has done so primarily through his diaries and official records of his work, but it is a mark of her meticulous approach that where her sources are blank, she has been able to suggest the most likely routes. Here, she is evidently in her 'zone', having climbed in similar regions herself.

The book contains forty-three informative plates, a number of which present stunning views of the wildernesses in which Godwin-Austen lived and surveyed; there is also a series of his own watercolours, analysed both by Moorehead and in an essay by Sandhurst's curator of military artwork.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, some annoyances 24 April 2014
A very well researched and detailed book. The author was given access to a wealth of papers and diaries, although it's a shame that some original source material has been lost to time leading to gaps in his story. I found the 'K2 Man' to be a fascinating character throughout this well written book, although I have to confess that one annoyance was the inclusion of several of the author's personal anecdotes (whilst embarking upon her own adventures in the region, many years later); I found these detracted from, rather than added to, the story of Godwin-Austen.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fragmented and did not truly engage 29 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
So much promise, but I found the writing did not flow or engage. Too many digressions, parentheses, personal anecdote and demonstration of the author's own literary knowledge. A remarkable man and polymath, and an incredibly well and accurately researched book. But maybe by trying to cover so much in this relatively short book, it came across as disjointed and fragmented. Not a book I would re-read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars K2 man 22 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I brought this book for myself as I was curious to find out about Haversham Godwin-Austen. I live in an old Keepers cottage which was on the Godwin-Austen estate and I wanted to find out more of the the family. Unfortunately I haven't had time to read much of it yet but I am looking forward to it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly amazing book. 8 Feb 2014
By Roshan
This deeply researched and perfectly written book was gripping and is a beautiful testament to Haversham Godwin Austen. Every page was yet another wonderfully detailed and interesting read. I look forward to more from this author.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge Research, fascinating detail, a good read
Catherine Moorehead has amassed an amazing amount of information about Godwin-Austen. He was a remarkable man and one of many parts and this comes out in the narrative that... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Stewart Hawkins
5.0 out of 5 stars A Surrey Explorer
Catherine Moorehead has written an extremely readable and informative biography of one of the explorers and mountaineers whose fame does not appear to have to have continued to the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by DKT
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer Scholarship
This is a wonderful book about a wonderful subject. In her exploration of the eclectic life of this extraordinary Victorian polymath, Catherine Moorehead offers us such a read as... Read more
Published 7 months ago by JRS
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography at its best
Of course biographies need to be meticulously researched, accurate and detailed to be successful, but those qualities alone do not guarantee an enjoyable read. Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. P. Whittaker
5.0 out of 5 stars A sumptuous read
Catherine Moorehead has done her subject proud with this sumptuous read. Her tenacity in searching out and analysing original source material is evident from the start. Read more
Published 7 months ago by JimD
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant biography
Elegant and humorous style and thorough research brings to life the character and times of this fascinating explorer/mountaineer/scientist. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mark
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