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95 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant; philosophy meets poetry
I came on line to write an independent review of this brilliant book, but then I saw the review by the reader from Fort William, and it made me rethink what I was going to say. First of all, it's important to say that this is top-class book; a totally new kind of writing about mountains. Second off, it's not just a book about mountains, but about how history works, why...
Published on 25 July 2003 by tomridley1

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but could have been taken further
This book has had largely positive reviews and I echo most of the positive comments. Indeed I would add that the content is compelling and my attention was held to the end as I was looking forward to how the theme would be further developed.

The author has been criticised by some for being more of a scholar than a climber. The suggestion is that as he does...
Published on 1 Aug 2010 by Mr. Michael Lumsden


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95 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant; philosophy meets poetry, 25 July 2003
I came on line to write an independent review of this brilliant book, but then I saw the review by the reader from Fort William, and it made me rethink what I was going to say. First of all, it's important to say that this is top-class book; a totally new kind of writing about mountains. Second off, it's not just a book about mountains, but about how history works, why people behave the way they do towards different types of landscapes, how we think the world into being, and what issues like guilt, love and betrayal mean when looked at in historical and not just individual terms. in many ways, this is a book of philosophy and poetry, rather than a history of mountaineering, which is perhaps why some people - including the reviewer from Fort William - have been disappointed. It's obvious that Macfarlne isn't a top-drawer climber; he never says that he is in the book, and anyone who knows anything about serious mountaineering could tell he's not. So there's no secret, or misdescription there. The point is, I think, that eveyrone who goes to the mountains goes to them because, in some sense, they love the way they look, and so this book does answer the big WHY question.
This is all a bit jumbled. But, in conclusion: this is a very special book, in the tradition of writers like Bruce Chatwin and Barry Lopez in the way it works simultaneously with adventures and ideas, and in the way it thinks about the wild, physical world. READ IT if you love history, language or, indeed, mountains.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not all about ropes and rucksacks -- that's the point, 5 Jun 2004
Every time there is a spectacular death in the hills, the old question starts up a babbling again: WHY DO THEY (mountain climbers) DO IT? The answers lies less in ``because the mountains are there'' -- and more, from the deepest psychological quandaries of ``who am I?''. Adventure jocks rarely talk in such metaphysical and existstential terms -- and clearly a good number of them have no time for MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND which has rightly turned to poetry and philosophy for both the language and cultural parrallels that ultimately humanises mountain mystique. I say humanizes... because the game itself is full of people wjho see themselves as more than human, superhuman, separate from the rabble. This is a terrific book.
The other great book that readers either love or hate becauise of its literary and philosophical references and explorations is Peter Hillary's surprisingly brilliant IN THE GHOST COUNTRY (written with philosopher and poet John Elder). It goes even further than MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND by adopting a powerful and sometimes intimidating language of myth and dreams to articulate powerfully the psychological and emotional frailties and motivations of men driven to the edge. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 16 May 2003
By A Customer
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This is a work of cultural history, blended with autobiography. It explains our fascination with high places and climbing, from several different perspectives. Thus the love of mountains is seen as a manifestation of specific aesthetic vogues and historical fashions; yet is also viewed from the perspective of the psychologist, probing the motives behind exploration and the somatic and intellectual cravings that mountaineering answers. The genre of the book is intriguing: it combines travelogue, personal history, fiction, narrative non-fiction and cultural studies, together with literary criticism and intellectual history. Yet it’s readable – very well written indeed – and engaging. Macfarlane has travelled widely, but, more than that, he has travelled thoughtfully. He is particularly good at describing the landscape and the facets of stones or the striations of the sky: he understands the responsibility of descriptive language to pay tribute to the things it describes, and there’s a kind of fetishism in his writing – a fascination with, above all, “things”. The epigraph to the book comes from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Macfarlane shares Hopkins’s sense of “haeccitas” – the understanding of the “thisness” of what he looks at, a response to its immediacy that is expressed in vividly living language. Very highly recommended,
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mind has mountains..., 15 Oct 2003
This stunning, magnificent, elegantly written book is one of the best books I've read this year. Some reviewers are entirely missing the point. Yes, of course it's about mountains and mountaineering - at its basic level. But its real concerns resonate so much more broadly and deeply. It's about history and geology, natural history and philosophy, literature and poetry; and it's about culture and psychology and self-discovery. And ultimately, after a meticulously woven argument bringing all these threads together, it's about tragedy, and about knowledge and about love. As another reviewer acutely observed, Macfarlane, like Hopkins, encounters the particular nature of things, and celebrates it, in language that's enormously potent, imaginative, and wide-ranging in imagery and vocabulary. Yet these writerly techniques never even for one moment get in the way of meaning or accessibility. It's at all times page-turningly readable. And the chapters just get better and better throughout. In short, it's a work of art. I just can't wait for his next book - whatever it's about.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real tour de force, 18 Nov 2003
By 
Andrew Howell "andyhowell3" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This IS one of the most absorbing books I have read for a long time. What is it with our fascination with mountains?
Macfarlane traces western man's fascination with mountains, charting the history of mountains and of the men and women who sought to conquer them. The book is worth the cost alone for the description of Mallory's three expeditions to Everest, here portrayed as a love affair that completes take over his life with disastrous consequences.
But this is more than just a history. This is an examination of fascination and obsession, a journey through the mountains of the imagination.
For anyone who walks or climbs in mountains this book is as Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: a history of walking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminently re-readable, 26 Nov 2011
This review is from: Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (Paperback)
I was rummaging in my book shelves for something different and read this again in one sitting... The first time I read it was on a 2 week trek in the Himalayas and found it to be a perfect aticulation of human fascination with mountains. It isn't a 'I survived this' tale but a meticulous examination of consiousness in relation to a particular landscape, and reading it within that landscape clarified previously unarticulated awareness of this strange attraction. The book traces the history of human relationship to this landscape and illustrates with well or little known facts. The writing is fluid and poetic, a pleasure to re-read. This is surely a modern classic in nature writing (though I'm not sure it fits that neatly into the genre as his other books).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentle climb, 12 Jun 2005
By A Customer
This book has been deservedly praised for the way it traverses a great deal of material with such elegance and elan. It retells some familiar stories in a fresh way and neatly blends cultural history with evocative descriptions of the author's mountain experiences. Although the central theme that landscapes are culturally determined is familiar and the format of these kind of cultural histories is now well established (Sprawson on swimming, Solnit on walking, Woodward on ruins etc.), the book never feels tired and the pace is maintained until the last page. MacFarlane is sure footed on writers like Shelley or Dr Johnson, stumbles a bit on art (Alexander Cozens was not a nineteenth century artist!) and is really in his element with anecdotes on Victorian climbing. 'Mountains of the Mind' centres on European attitudes in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, culminating in Mallory's ascent. This leaves a slightly disconcerting gap between the 1920s and MacFarlane's own recent experiences: it would be interesting to read how cultural attitudes have changed since Mallory's time. Although the mountains of Asia are central to the narrative, the cultural attitudes to mountains in Asia are not discussed. So for example, he doesn't discuss Hsieh Ling-Yun or Han Shan or the Western beat poets and climbers subsequently inspired by them. Then again, it's such a mountainous subject it would have been a challenge to include everything in one volume.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb: thoughtful, poetic and personal. Read it!, 9 Mar 2010
By 
Helen Watson "DairyMilkQueen" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (Paperback)
I loved this book.

I love mountains (which helped) but even so, this really is a tour de force. Robert Macfarlane has a beautiful and light written style. He mixes his own experiences on the mountain with a strong historical explanation of why he - and so many others - became obsessed with mountains. This is the book you wish you could have come up with yourself as you stare at Alpine peaks in awe. It's not just about the hill, but about what's in our heads. And that is what I loved about the book.

And if you haven't already, read Wild Places. You'll love that too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but could have been taken further, 1 Aug 2010
By 
Mr. Michael Lumsden (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (Paperback)
This book has had largely positive reviews and I echo most of the positive comments. Indeed I would add that the content is compelling and my attention was held to the end as I was looking forward to how the theme would be further developed.

The author has been criticised by some for being more of a scholar than a climber. The suggestion is that as he does not come from the first division of risk takers on the mountains he can not speak authoritatively.

I do not think that the criticism stands. The quality of the work depends on taking a broad approach and there can be no question that the work is well researched.

The case study of Mallory is perhaps open to the charge of repeating information that is well known; however, it does highlight and illustrate the riddle of why a man with so much to live for should gamble his life away. And I think that there was at least an approach to an answer, that for many their experience in the mountains is of being more fully alive - making the rest of life seem drab by comparison; better to die living than not to live at all.

Where I was disappointed was that the focus was almost entirely on the elite mountaineer; why do folk attempt Everest (or K2)? This excludes the experience of the vast majority of lovers of the mountains, some of whom will not even climb them. I think he could have considered the ordinary folk and emotions such as friendship with the hills or feelings of belonging or "coming home".

I was pleased that there was some attempt to bring in the special link with animals that are genuinely wild, but felt that more could have been said about the joy of meeting truly wild animals in a shared environment.

In summary it is a great book, but could have been developed further.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and insightful, 28 April 2003
By A Customer
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This is a work of cultural history, but a highly personal one - a book about why we desire to climb mountains, an account of attitudes to mountaineering and Romanticism, a partly autobiographical celebration of altitude, an essay in experimental narrative nonfiction. The author writes with poetic sensitivity, but is muscular and serious in his marshalling of hard facts. Think Simon Schama meets Francis Spufford meets Tobias Hill: wide-ranging, thoughtful, reflective, sometimes lyrical. It's a book for anyone who is interested in the relationship between art and nature, as well as for anyone who admires scholarship that blends intellectual rigor with lambent prose.
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Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination
Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination by Robert Macfarlane (Paperback - 1 July 2008)
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