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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superbly crafted portrait
This is a quite wonderful book. Jim Perrin is a rare man: a mountaineer from working class roots who's also a very gifted writer, in my opinion the finest of all the mountaineering writers of late. He's an averagely competent climber - no extreme gymnast or Everest-conquering hero - but has been in the "scene" for decades and knew Whillans personally, who, besides being a...
Published on 22 Sep 2005 by Bill Ryan

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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An English Climbing Bukowski?
The Villain by Jim Perrin

I was excited when I bought this book and so wanted to enjoy it. The reasons why I did not, may say more about myself than the book. I have been climbing for a long time, I am widely read especially in climbing literature and I am also a complete intellectual snob.

If you are none of the above then please read all the other...
Published on 10 Feb 2007 by Dr. Gn Farquhar


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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both feet in the clay, 24 Sep 2010
By 
Dave (Holmfirth, Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
Sometime back in the late 90's I went to Widdop with an old friend and another friend of his who I didn't know so well. No one was feeling very brave so we top roped a couple of nasty arÍtes and then repaired to The Pack Horse. Whilst we were there the guy I didn't know remarked that he hadn't been to this crag since he was in the scouts in the 1960's. He'd been taken there by his scout master and they all waited round in the cold for the "expert" to arrive. After a couple of hours the scout master said, "Well it doesn't look like Mr Whillans is going to show up, we might as well go home". We all laughed and raised a glass to Don.
This is pretty much how the legend of Don Whillans spread. Even as late as the 70's and 80's the "scene" was small enough for very ordinary Sunday afternoon climbers to have heard third and fourth hand stories of Whillans, hero of Everest and conqueror of Anapurna. The stories of course were often negative. Don drank, Don hit people, Don wasn't very nice to his wife. On the other hand he was a real laugh and loyal to his mates. Quick witted as well as quick fisted he was a natural anarchist and we loved him for it; didn't we?
We loved the stories at any rate but the man himself?
I never met Don but I was always suspicious of his legend. Loyal to his mates and a good laugh. Surely these are the virtues claimed by bullies the world over. So far as I thought of Don Whillans at all I thought he was probably a bastard. Just the sort of man to leave a lot of cub scouts standing in the rain whilst he sat at home in front of the fire with Audrey stirring his tea for him.
So how do I feel after reading Jim Perrin's book. Really very sad indeed. It would have been so much easier if Don really had been an out and out bastard but of course life is seldom so simple. He was thin skinned, he was sensitive, he was intelligent and articulate ,he wrote a good letter and could certainly string a sentence together. He really was loyal to his mates and on the hill was prepared to risk his life for them but by God did he expect that loyalty back in spades. He seems to have had the most long suffering and loving wife imaginable and I would like to believe that he loved her back but he couldn't show it, at least not in public.
His life could have been so much better if he had let some of this "soft side" show but in the end he was so ham strung by his own limited view of what it meant to be a "hard man" that he was literally as well as metaphorically crippled.
Don climbed vicious and (in those days) unprotectable overhanging jamming cracks, he climbed the Bonatti and the central tower of the Paine and the south face of Anapurna. It is probably not possible to do these things if one is entirely balanced.
On the other hand there are people who have achieved similar feats without making quite such a hash of the rest of their lives.
"The greatest British mountaineer of all time" died fat and largely friendless at the age of 52. Pretty much all that was left of him was a pub bore. His last, modest, ambition had been to climb Killimanjaro with a few of his remaining friends but one of them has admitted they were planning to ditch him "We wouldn't have got to the top with Don along." All I can say is it's a good job his heart killed him, if it hadn't this final perceived betrayal may have done.
It is not surprising that Perrin draws a lot of his similes from Greek tragedy. He has succeeded in writing a subtle and surprisingly touching portrait of a very difficult man. He deserves an understated "Well done"
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don Whillans is here to stay, 2 Mar 2008
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
A magnificent book, this biography of Britain's most controversial post-war climber. Jim Perrin's rendering of Whillans' life is truly "symphonic": as it unfolds there is a feeling of progression, of widening vistas, of deepening insight into the subterranean drives of this wilful personality. All of this emerges organically from a number of key themes - Whillans' working-class background, the fraught relationship with his key climbing partners (Joe Brown and Chris Bonnington) and his wife Audrey, the fractious dynamics in the English climbing community, the enduring attraction of Chesire gritstone, Chamonix granite and the snow and ice of the great Himalayan peaks - refracted in myriads of amazing, often wildly funny stories and anecdotes. As a result of Perrin's great and humane skill in weaving these various strands together, the story assumes a significance that goes beyond this particular constellation of character, space and time. After having read this book, Don Whillans' personality stands for something bigger, something more fundamental and iconic. At a certain point, Perrin very aptly likens Whillans to Achilles - enormously gifted and driven but unable to quell his egotism and agression, unable to let his gift flower into a more balanced, endearing persona. There are lessons here for all of humanity. On the other hand, and despite the deeper significance that speaks from Perrin's narrative, this is a climbers' book in such a fundamental and exemplary way. With immense sympathy and wisdom it speaks particularly to those who have experienced what it means to have space below your feet, to confine your life to your own and your partner's skill and the mood of the mountain, to precariously feel your way through vast wilderness spaces. I enjoyed this book immensely. Don Whillans is here to stay.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book on one of the major characters of British climbing, 21 Feb 2014
By 
G. Mott (UK) - See all my reviews
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A well written book which gives an interesting insight into another age, not long ago in terms of years, I actually saw Don climbing once, but so so different in so many ways, in terms of protection, attitude to risk, professionalism and climbing standards in general.

The book is an interesting social history as well. One area which I noticed was the propensity for casual violence which appears to have been quite common at the time, something Don, (or at least his public persona) appeared to revel in.

Don himself was a complex character, flawed in many ways and perhaps ultimately a tragic figure, never able to achieve his full potential in almost any field of his life. That said, a product of his time and upbringing, tough as they come and the like of which we will likely never see again.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Happy Memories, 14 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
Good read and happy memories of climbing & mountaineering with the Kodak climbing & fell walking club in late 60s & 70s
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3.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable read, 21 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
It was great to see a book out about on of the finest climbers of the 20th century.. I enjoyed it but I thought it was a bit to detailed about the climbs
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Scary Read, 11 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
This is an extremely detailed and honest account of a great climber with a difficult personal life. I wasn't keen on all the foot notes but the descriptions of the climbs were extremely vivid. Have re-read twice and now looking forward to reading it again.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great read from a true man of the mountains, 14 May 2013
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A true man of the hills who tells it like it is. He lived for going to the high mountains of the world with the out look of a man from the North.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quality book, 24 Sep 2012
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Gritstone god interesting viewpoint the authors florid style may not be to everyones taste or liking but stick with it a good read
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity, 13 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
The only thing that I can say in favour of this book is that it contains a great deal of information. However, it's a pity that Perrin's interpretation of what he has uncovered about the life of Whillans is so far off the mark. This book is full of such misinterpretations, some of which are downright bizarre.

For example, it is particularly galling that Perrin gives the impression that Whillans was a racist. Rubbish. In his talks whilst on the lecture circuit, Whillans went out of his way to give credit to the locals who supported his expeditions, and obviously had a very high regard for their efforts. In all the writings of which I'm aware, Whillans never made an unfounded criticism or racist remark against anyone.

Perrin's style is so flat and dry that a non-climber must be mystified by the motivations for climbing. It's a sad indictment of this book that the best insight into these motivations, and into Whillans' character, is written by Whillans himself. In Chapter 9 (page 101 of the hardback), Perrin quotes a passage in which Whillans describes early morning at Bryn Coch. This passage summarises the joys of climbing in a few well chosen words; truly great writing and the undoubted highlight of a rather sour book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of a British climbing legend, 2 May 2012
This review is from: The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (Paperback)
If you're reading reviews of this book, I guess you know the subject, the life of Don Whillans, and you may well know the author, Jim Perrin. The author writes having known his subject personally, known some of the people and influences on his subject, and this comes through. You'll learn a lot about Don Whillans but you'll learn something about Jim Perrin too. In the introduction, Perrin says that he's tried to make the book accessible to non-climbers but this is really a book about a climber, by a climber, for climbers; I think non-climbing readers would have to be dedicated to get through it.

The tale is well told, with lots of insights into the man, the climbs and his partners, and if you're interested in knowing more then you really should read it. And just because he was (in)famous, doesn't mean he was a nice man. Warts and all in the book, as those involved wished to see.

Perrin's writing style is such that it makes for a considered and well-paced read. The extensive, almost habitual, use of footnotes throughout the book mostly works. Though there are occasions when the footnote could have easily been incorporated within the body text they're often used for asides, small diversions away from the narrative path which are worth taking. The sense of place and time is especially well done for the early years and one of the footnotes here, about why so few men had long hair before the late 1960s, made me laugh out loud.

The last chapter, the coda to the book, is vintage Perrin. It's a romantic piece that describes a wistful mood conjured up by memories and a location and forms a suitable close to the tale.

But I have a sense of an opportunity missed with the book too. Whilst the life and times stuff contains occasional analysis, there should really be a next to last chapter that brings together all the tangled threads of a life and the influences upon it and tries to resolve them, and it isn't there. Perrin mentions, once or twice, that Whillans' father was the only person he would really listen to; why, what effect did this have, and what happened when he died? What gave rise to the insecurities that the tough outer shell protected, and how did these influence his behaviour? Why did this man feel the need for his climbing partners to display their loyalty to him and then feel betrayed when they didn't? How can this be contrasted with his marriage? A next to last chapter that tried to see a broader picture in this and make plain, insofar as anything this complex can ever be resolved, just what motivated the man would have been a really valuable addition. Damn difficult to write, but valuable.

There are a lot of parallels between Whillans and, say, George Best - different spheres, different amounts of money involved, but the baseline of consummate but ultimately unfulfilled talent, and of stepping away from the front line whilst younger than they could, perhaps should, have done is similar. Why does someone do this? What makes someone unable to take the long view and give up when there's so much more that they could have achieved? What influences them to do that? I was also left wondering, though it was obviously never diagnosed, whether there was the black dog of depression lurking around that life. OK, the George Best parallel was never going to be in the book, what with him still being alive when it was published and all, but it serves to show that Whillans isn't the only one to have exhibited this type of behaviour. And good writer though he is, perhaps this would have been asking rather too much of Jim Perrin. But this type of analysis, if attempted, could have given insights between the lines of a life story.

So, a good read, not without its flaws, but worthwhile nevertheless. If you want to get to some of the truth behind the legend and an insight into the British climbing scene then reading the book is time well spent.
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The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans
The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans by Jim Perrin (Paperback - 6 April 2006)
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