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4.5 out of 5 stars88
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 1999
Heinrick Harrer, along with his companions Fritz Kasparek, Andreas Heckmair and Ludwig Vorg, made the first successful ascent of the North face of the Eiger, arriving on the summit at around 3:00pm on 24th July 1938. The book describes the endless battles faught on the face, sometimes to save others, sometimes to save themselves and sometimes in vain. It also tries to resolve some of the mysteries which shroud the face (It even has a route guide for anyone considering the climb). Despite the fact that the book was first published 40years ago and that the translation slips up from time to time does not alter the fact that this is a brilliant read. Unfortunately it didn't inspire to climb big faces as much as Joe Simpson's books did but alas it did inspire Joe Simpson and undoubtably many others to go out to the far flung reaches of the globe and climb.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 1999
No mountaineering bookshelf is complete without a copy of this compelling volume. It details every significant attempt on the North face of the Eiger from the first disastrous climb in 1932 to the many successes and failures of the 1960s. By the time you reach the end you'll feel as if you've climbed every agonising or inspiring step with the men and women that Harrer portrays.
The horror of the failed climbs and the ecstasy of the successes are vividly painted by Harrer's straightforward, unadorned style, which makes this such a gripping read. The only part of the book that jars is his rather old-fashioned and patronising description of the first attempts on the face by women. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise influential and well-written book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2008
Harrer has researched the history of the seminal attempts on this vertical mile of rock in meticulous detail and as a result this book gives a rich picture of the physical and spiritual strength required to achieve this most famous of summits. His account of their own first ascent is gripping yet prosaic; I found this style perfectly conveyed the necessary drama without tipping into self-indulgence, which is also mostly absent from his descriptions of later attempts. What struck me very much was the capriciousness of fate when attempting the North Face; the difference between the heroic first successful summit and the many failed attempts surrounding it is a stone falling here, or a snow slide there. Perhaps to say luck plays a part is not correct, but the catalogue of experienced, respected names to have perished there, often without making any obvious errors, highlights the fine line between getting up and down alive or not.

On the negative side, and the reason for four stars instead of five, is Harrer's over-egging the difference between climbers and non-climbers; something I find Joe Simpson guilty of too. It becomes grating to read every few pages that all climbers are salt-of-the-earth good eggs, uninterested in fame, and how every non-climber cannot possibly understand what drives climbers to do what they do. I don't believe that humility and kindness are the preserve of climbers alone and I do believe that non-climbers are perfectly capable of appreciating outstanding feats of human endeavour. (Luckily I was forewarned about the condescension with which Harrer describes the first women climbers attempting the North Face.) The brotherhood in climbing circles was self-evident in the number of guides and volunteers ready to respond to a cry for help immediately and from long distances. The oft-repeated image of colleagues waiting on the summit, having climbed one of the less demanding routes to the top, to welcome the successful party off the North Face, spoke more about camaraderie than relentlessly hitting readers over the head with descriptions of the unique spirit of fellowship enjoyed by climbers.

In spite of this Harrer is to be commended on describing every climb in detail without becoming too technical or melodramatic. His undisguised admiration for those he describes is authentic and touching, and in spite of having much to blow his own trumpet about, he modestly relegates himself to merely another actor in the ongoing drama of the North Face. This is not a book for those looking for a story of great adventure, it is a thorough monument to all those brave spirits, who made it back or not, who could not resist the call of the mountains.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2002
An absolute must for the true mountaineer or aspiring hopeful. Not to be read however immediatly before a bid to climb the face, but required reading whilst contemplating At times Harrer confronts you with the terrible bleakness of the stricken parties on the face, whilst remaining factual in a Tutonic way. Excellent. PS Another good account of the Eigerwand can be found in The Boardman Tasker Omnibus. The first book gives an account of the first succesful British Winter Ascent by Joe Tasker.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
'The White Spider' is Harrers masterly history of the north face of the Eiger. This is the book that inspired Joe Simpson, and indeed has an introduction by him. This covers Harrers first ascent, as well as previous and subsequent failed and successful ascents. The style is a touch dated and takes some time to get used to, but once you do you are captivated by the various tales of bravery and climbing expertise and folly in it's pages. There are many names in this book, which makes it hard to remember where you are up to at times, but it is a marvelous catalogue of climbers and their attempts at the Eiger. This has become a climbing classic, and rightly so, and the chapter describing Harrers own ascent more than makes up the purchase price. There are a few photo plates in the middle, a extensive list of ascents and attempts, as well as an in-depth route guide for the North Face. Overall this is required reading for climbers who are considering the Eiger and for those interested in climbing and climbing books in general.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2007
As an armchair (couch potato!) reader of real-life high adventure, I've recently read various books of thrilling climbs, daring treks etc. This was certainly one of the best - it combined mountain climbing information with the human angle and never left me too far behind with technical jargon.

As I read of the desperate conditions endured by the bold (mad!) climbers, I was truly gripped by the account of the eventual conquest of the Eiger.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 1999
Definitely a classic, and at times moving and fascinating, but I would say this is more a book for the climber or the obsessed armchair mountaineer than for your average reader who's just read a couple of mountaineering books. Harrer is a bit of an old romantic, and you can't help sensing a touch of homo-eroticism in his accounts of fine men doing fine things in the perfect harmony of the rope. It's all very old-fashioned (particularly the almost comical attitude to women). After a while it becomes a bit of a catalogue of ascents, but you certainly feel like you know the mountain by the end. It certainly inspired me to look for other accounts of climbing the North Face of the Eiger (a good one can be found in Dougal Haston's "In High Places".)
A plea to whoever is putting the next edition together: please get someone good to re-translate it: some of the phrases really grate.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2003
This book is truly inspirational. I enjoyed every second of it. These are men who don’t know what CAN’T means, true heroes, in the vein of Joe Simpson and Reinhold Messner. Only now can I hope to understand 1% the type of men mountaineers are.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2007
This is a great book by one of the first ascentists of the North Face of the Eiger, one of the last major challenges in the Alps to be climbed. It reviews the history of the attempts on the North Face in an exciting and very readable way. It gets the reader hooked! Heinrich Harrer was a unique person who led an amazing life. He also later spent Seven Years in Tibet and was tutor to the Dalai Lama. I would also recomend his autobiography Beyond Seven Years in Tibet, My life before, during and after, which has just come out and is an amazing read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 February 2015
Great book when it focuses purely on climbing. A bit pathetic when if focuses on useless nationalistic proud. As Italian I felt more than once offended. It seems to me that Italian climbers are second level climbers simply because they are Italians - hence second level people, compared to the great Austrian-Germans. The sensationalism, the inaccuracies and the accusations present when describing the 'Corti affair' should have been rewritten after his story hast been proven to be true. But nope, not done.
A book to be read carefully, never forgetting it was written in the late 50s.
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