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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, worth sticking with it
When I first started reading Unjustifiable Risk? I thought it might end up being a list of peaks, dates and climbers. However, Thompson has a great writing style which blends the bare facts of British climbing with humour and wit. He also displays a talent for choosing engaging stories and one liners from the various characters in British climbing that liven up the...
Published on 23 Nov. 2010 by R. W. Mackenzie

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not that engaging
My impression of this book is that it is the work of a keen amateur. However, I'm not convinced it quite measures up to the mark. Several parts were quite difficult to read owing to the quality of the writing, and I also thought it relied too heavily on the pseudo- philosophical dichotomy of the aesthete and athlete, and personal opinion of the author, who, let's be...
Published on 16 April 2011 by jojo_wheatley@hotmail.com


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, worth sticking with it, 23 Nov. 2010
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When I first started reading Unjustifiable Risk? I thought it might end up being a list of peaks, dates and climbers. However, Thompson has a great writing style which blends the bare facts of British climbing with humour and wit. He also displays a talent for choosing engaging stories and one liners from the various characters in British climbing that liven up the text.

I am not a serious climber, but have enjoyed rock climbing and mountaineering in the past, and although I'm sure that by necessity some individuals, peaks and routes have been overlooked or omitted from the book, Thompson seems to have produced a comprehensive study of British climbing from the 1800s to the present day. He has divided the book into different eras, and within each era he discusses the developments in climbing by geographical area. I found this a helpful way of disseminating the vast amount of information.

Thompson has done a huge amount of research for his book, and includes an extensive bibliography for those interested in reading further.

All in all I would recommend this book for anyone with at least a vague interest in climbing, I found it a very readable and enjoyable book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story of British climbing, 10 Oct. 2010
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I found this a fairly rare combination of readable and academic. I should point out that I am not a climber but I have always been interested in the subject and have read a number of books over the years on both major climbs and climbers. I found this book worked well to link some of the separate information I had.

To me the book was sensibly laid out with the main chapters covering 6 main eras of British climbing. The chapters start with the social/cultural framework of society at the time and then looks at climbing in geographic areas largely following the exploits of the climbers of the era. This certainly works well early in the book however as the author acknowledges, climbers travelled far more widely in the post WW2 period and some some of the narrative in that period felt a little disjointed as a climber would be mentioned in say Wales, then in Scotland, then in the Alps and then in the "greater ranges". It certainly did not spoil the book for me and I'm not sure how it could easily be improved within the framework that works well in earlier chapters.

I found out quite a lot than I did not know and was of real interest. The book is also written with some good humour. The expedition to the Himalayas which almost turned back when the entire supply of tea was lost or that fact that soldiers were trained for cliff assaults during the 2nd world war (meaning more people were involved in climbing) some of whom were then sent to take a Dutch island that was "several feet below sea level" were among the stories that entertained me.

Other than the slightly disjointed narrative referred to above my only other slight criticism is that I felt that the role of women climbers was not addressed at quite the same level as their male counterparts. The author acknowledges the approach throughout most of the history that women were not seen as climbers and does address the balance to a degree. However the narrative on the life story of the male climbers seemed more complete than that of the women. A good and very readable book which I enjoyed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The bumper book of climbing history, 2 Nov. 2010
By 
Jago Wells - See all my reviews
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Simon Thompson attempts what others have attempted before but possibly with less success. He attempts to outline the history of rock climbing home and abroad by British born activists and within a socio/cultural context.
Beginning with the Victorian gentlemen adventurers.That priviliged band of brothers....and it was overwhelmingly brothers for women were still peripheral figures...who decided that bagging mountain tops was almost as exciting as hunting and shooting !
In the early chapters,it is hard to engage with these pioneers. Even well regarded figures like Mummery and Whymper are pretty much hard to admire for in this era,the leading lights saw the lower orders as pretty much on a par with the natural world. To be exploited and conquered. It's not until we reach the new century that things really start to get interesting when figures like OG Jones and Archer Thomson enter the fray.
The interest rachets up with each passing decade as each throws up it's heroes..Menlove Edwards,Colin Kirkus, Jim Birkett,Joe Brown, Don Whillans and Chris Bonington. To name just a few from the list of hundreds who are mentioned in the book. Simon Thompson offers a lateral view across the disciplines within each era...traditional,Alpine,winter and greater ranges. Exploring how the breaking down of social barriers and the invention of new equipment led to continuous technical advancement in standards across each discipline.
If anything stops it being a five star book it's the fact that Simon packs so much information within it's 300+ pages that it touches on being almost like an Open University course book. Compressing facts and figures to the detriment of detail.
I've enjoyed reading it though. I was familiar with a lot of the history and anecdotes but I did learn a lot of new stuff about the curious games climbers play.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and interesting, 27 April 2011
By 
antom "antom" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Unjustifiable Risk? is an entertaining and interesting history of the past 150 years of British mountaineering and climbing. Rather than giving detailed accounts of heroic climbs and adventures (as covered in books such as Fergus Fleming's Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps), Simon Thompson is more concerned with the historical conditions that led to the rise of the sport.

In part, according to Thompson, interest in mountaineering followed the popular interest in polar exploration - in the "Great Peace" that followed the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Royal Navy embarked upon a series of exploratory missions that were the most expensive in history before the United States and Soviet space programmes.

Thompson also considers attitudes to the sport. For example, the Matterhorn accident of 1865 in which three Englishmen died was greeted with rage and incomprehension in the English press. At a time when 6% of soldiers sent to imperial outposts died each year from disease, that Englishmen had died doing a "useless" activity led the Editor of the Times to write "What right has [the mountaineer] to throw away the gift of life and ten thousand golden opportunities in an emulation which he only shares with skylarks, apes and squirrels?"

Thompson has researched the subject well and packs each page with interesting snippets and historical insights which mean that anyone with a general interest in history will also enjoy this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unjustifiable Risk?: The Story of British Climbing, 13 Oct. 2010
By 
12stringbassist "....." (NorthWest, UK) - See all my reviews
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I'm not a climber, but my son is. I got this book with the intention that he would read it and review it.

Basically this substantial book examines climbers from various eras from 1800 to date and details their climbing exploits in a well-written and engagingly readable manner. There is humour and sadness, as you would expect in stories from the history of such a dangerous sport. The narrative does jump around a little in parts from place to place, but then, I guess, so do the climbers. The later accounts obviously seem more complete, as the majority of these climbers are still around and giving interviews.

As noted by other reviewers, climbing is perceived as a mainly male-orientated sport, as the best known climbers in the history of climbing have been male. This is now becoming a sport that more women are taking part in.

The research that must have gone into this book (and the author's knowledge) is certainly impressive. For a non-climber like myslef who winces when he sees programmes on TV with people stuck up cliff faces that seem simply insurmountable and unclimbable, I do get some of the feeling of the climbers motivation to conquer these epic places.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and interesting, 8 Oct. 2010
By 
Brian Hamilton "brianhamilton14" (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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A very interesting, comprehensive and informative read. Straddling the line between potted history and entertaining essay on the bizarre characters that have marked the history of climbing, this book is a massively enjoyable read.

Some of the earlier chapters, although relevant to the history of climbing, were a little staid, although in fairness I think any writer would struggle to conjure up magic regarding the earliest exploration of the mountains. I found the whole 'romantic' bit rather hard to swallow.

Some of the later essays are brilliantly atmospheric, I loved the sections on the explosion in difficulty of rock routes after WWII. Climbers in army surplus gear whizzing to cliff faces on motorcycles at the weekends, drunken debauchery in various barns etc. are massively entertaining and good fun to read about.

I would recommend this book for anyone with a passing interest in climbing, I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Because it's there..., 19 Jun. 2011
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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For a nation with such small mountains when compared to the great mountain ranges the world, it is startling cultural phenomenon just how many of the world's great mountaineers have been from the British Isles. This book goes a long way down the line to defining and analysing why this should be the case.

The subtitle, the story of British climbing is, encapsulates what is an ambitious book which while a partial success, is a really valuable and necessary contribution to the field. I've recently enjoyed Roland Huntford's book on the history of skiing, and while this book is not as academically accomplished as that was, it is very much in the same vein. Simon Thompson is a climber himself, the text reads very much as a labour of love with passion and enthusiasm for the pursuit shining from most pages! There's a great deal here that indicates how climbing the and British attitudes to the sport reflect wider cultural and political dynamics. The book negotiates the story of climbing in Britain around the seismic impact of the Great War, and the Second World War which have had a decisive effect on perception of risk and the attitudes to organising expeditions. It also goes some way to analysing how the same impulses that shaped the creation of the British Empire also shaped attitudes to climbing.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter "1939 to 1970: Hard Men in an Affluent Society". Thompson quickly gets down to the physical nature of the expeditions, and is particularly striking when depicting the characters of the individuals who pit themselves against such geographical challenges. This would make a fine gift for a climber, or, a reader like myself who is happy to analyse and dwell upon human beings who place themselves in adversity from the comfort of an armchair!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Justifying the Unjustifiable, 4 Sept. 2010
By 
D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria) - See all my reviews
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This encyclopaedic story of British climbing is a reasonable attempt to collect together answers to why climbers climb as via its chronological approach it examines the risk element from even before the Golden Age of Victorian mountaineers up to modern athletes. `Unjustifiable Risk' focuses on contributions from various mountaineers and climbers, and for much of its 300+ pages it sub-divides into the Alps and great ranges, the mountains of the Lake District, Wales and Scotland, plus outcrops. Quoting at length results in little new being recorded, but a wealth of detail is brought together and it is readily accessible via an excellent Index.

Breadth of time scale and far-reaching worldwide venues make full coverage impracticable, and unfortunately in being selective author Simon Thompson leaves his book somewhat unbalanced as he has specifically chosen not to present a personal dimension. All stories are someone else's. `Unjustifiable Risk' remains a nice book to dip into for facts and quotations yet inevitably there are omissions. This is most marked over the last 40 years period where a huge amount of detail is overlooked. No doubt readers will have their own nominations, and one wonders how Simon Thompson chose his subjects. Many are not mentioned such as Tim Emmet or Andy Kirkpatrick, and justice is not done to the likes of Dave Birkett or Dave MacLeod. For a view of today's cutting edge there could have been snippets from the SMC's 2009 edition of `Ben Nevis - Britain's Highest Mountain'.

From earlier I would have liked to read of Fred Balcome or Jim Haggas for their spectacular contributions to Lakeland climbing. Even so the periods up to 1970 are generally comprehensive and there are few contradictions, though readers will have varying grounds for understanding why Eric Shipton was not chosen to lead the 1953 Everest expedition, or they may challenge how authentic are reports of the behaviour of Peter Greenwood, the Burgess twins and others. On Beachy Head Simon Thompson states that Devil's Chimney collapsed in 2001, but Edward C Pyatt's 1960 publication `Where to Climb in the British Isles' reports it had "recently subsided into the sea". For me a particular flaw is inadequate commentary on Halford Mackinder's expedition to Mount Kenya and I draw attention to a gap in Simon Thompson's Bibliography: `The First Ascent of Mount Kenya' edited by K. Michael Barbour in 1991. Otherwise Simon Thompson's massive Selected Bibliography cannot be faulted, and his extensive Notes are eminently suited to what is a serious historical document.

With easy retrieval of information, encompassing social and political commentaries on the story of British climbing, `Unjustifiable Risk' is a solid work of reference that justifies it as a welcome addition to the ever expanding body of climbing and mountaineering literature. None of this completely answers why we climb, but Simon Thompson's closing chapters are especially enlightening with a final analysis of what motivates modern climbers and how they approach their game.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars something with Attitude, 21 July 2011
By 
Hawk (UK) - See all my reviews
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'How the author Simon Thompson managed to put together all the quotes, references and historic information is beyond me, but he puts across and explores well the various different attitudes and reasons for why climbers climb. Although the reasons for climbing seem wide and varied and different for everybody. The book is well set out too, in understandable chapters which are broken up in to relevant periods of time and covers all of the dramatic events in climbing history. The author even touches on how technology and innovation with climbing gear has opened this sport up to the wider audience, rather than a few hardy explorers and people with often privileged backgrounds...'
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An agreeable and satisfactory journey, 2 Sept. 2010
By 
Dr. Peter Davies (Halifax, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book was a treat. It was on my wish list and then it turned up as a Vine selection. And it's lovely to see Cicerone Press branching out from guidebooks and into wider mountain publishing. The publishers are on a winner with this book.

This book is a well written and well produced history of British mountaineering. It shows a lovely combination of understanding both of the social and economic conditions that give rise to the wish to escape to the hills, and a good appreciation of the character of the people who have led the development of climbing. Thompson has a good eye for character, and his selection of one line put downs is superb. For example here is Leslie Stephen's self deprecation, " the true way to describe all my ascents is that (my guide) succeeded in performing a feat requiring skill, strength and courage, the difficulty of which was much increased by the difficulty of taking with him his knapsack and his employer." Or if you prefer a more barbed comment, "Coolidge, "could do anything with a hatchet but bury it.""

The history starts from about 1800, and comes up to the current day. It shows well how people and their backgrounds, and technological opportunities (e.g railways opening, improved nutrition) combine to produce the results they do. It describes well how these have altered over time.

The book draws many useful distinctions and perhaps the biggest one in this book is the tension between the aesthete and the heroic climber. The aesthetes tend to view mountaineering as an overall experience- maybe almost sublime or mystical- think of W.H.MurrayMountaineering in Scotland or Geoffrey Winthrop Young, or more recently Jim PerrinOn and Off the Rocks: Selected Essays, 1968-85. The heroic climbers tend to be more focused on the physical task at hand, and more interested in the technicalities. Think of Mummery or Whymper, or more recently the many pure rock climbers such as Ron Fawcett. Of course these two extremes are rarely total, and most climbers enjoy both the technical and the aesthetic sides of climbing.

This book is the right length, and gives readers a chance to learn more about our country and the mountaineers and climbers it produces, and to learn more about their motivations. It does exactly what it says it is going to, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read.

I can recommend it enthusiastically to those readers who enjoy walking and climbing.
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Unjustifiable Risk?: The Story of British Climbing (Techniques)
Unjustifiable Risk?: The Story of British Climbing (Techniques) by Simon Thompson (Paperback - 15 Mar. 2012)
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