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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful account of the life and death of an Everest hero, 7 Dec 2000
This review is from: Fearless on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine (Hardcover)
It didn't seem possible that any more information would emerge about the lives - and deaths - of the British 1920s Everest heroes, particularly given the plethora of books about George Mallory, following the discovery of his body high on the North Face last year. But Julie Steele has written a beautiful new book about Sandy Irvine, bringing to life Mallory's partner who died with him in their final, fateful attempt on Everest in June 1924.
Until now Irvine has been seen as Mallory's sidekick, a historical cypher faithfully following in Mallory's footsteps. But, with great skill and enthusiasm, Julie Summers - Irvine's great-niece - has brought him to life and given him a character and an existence of his own.
Irvine, an Oxford undergraduate, just 22 when he died, is revealed as a richly complex character, unable to express himself too well in words, but a dedicated sportsman who rowed for Oxford, a better climber than previously given credit for, and a gifted and visionary engineer and photographer who relished the great adventure of tackling Everest.
He was a resolute strategist too, playing a long game, singling out Mallory as the man who was most likely to get him to the top. Julie Summers tells her story with vivacity and pace, piling on fresh detail after detail to give her narrative momentum and authenticity. Like all good researchers, she suspected when she embarked on her project that there was more to find - and lo and behold, was rewarded for her tenacity when, in an attic in a family home in North Wales, she came across a crate of letters and other documents that are as compelling as they are revelatory.
They included Irvine's letters to his mother from the 1924 expedition, never before published, and his designs for modifying the oxygen equipment that had previously been so unreliable. All through the long trek across Tibet in the spring of 1924 he was tinkering, modifying, redesigning, until the oxygen sets were far lighter and more dependable - a key factor in commending him to Mallory.
Julie Summers has also unearthed the almost obligatory scandal, an affair with his best friend's stepmother that Irvine conducted with precious few inhibitions. There are stunning new photographs in the book too, some reflecting Irvine's love life, others showing the full gamut of his enteprises in the pre-Everest years.
As the author's first biography, Fearless on Everest is a truly impressive achievement, and one that must be a contender for next year's Boardman Tasker prize - the coveted annual award for mountain literature.
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