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This review is from: Brotherhood of the Rope: The Biography of Charles Houston (Legends and Lore) (Paperback)
This review is based on the 2007 hardback edition complete with a DVD showing historic film of the 1938 and 1953 attempts on K2. Commentary refers to the rope bonding climbers together mentally as well as physically, and is the source of the title: `Brotherhood of the Rope'. Author Bernadette McDonald's book is a brilliant biography of legendary mountaineer Charles Houston providing new insights to his well known K2 expeditions as well as to his childhood, to his early exploits on Mount Foraker, Nanda Devi etc., to his medical career and research programmes, and to Peace Corps involvement, plus many associated and fascinating roles. Charles Houston is a brilliant man, but plagued by self doubt with a "sometimes difficult personality". As well as public records for consultation the author had many discussions with Houston and his contemporaries with access to private writings. In forthright no-nonsense style she does not shrink from invasive scrutiny to ensure a complete portrait of a harrowed but honourable human being.
From revelations of Houston's introvert nature and moody behaviour as a child it is somewhat surprising how he became such an able and charismatic expedition leader - as McDonald states: in the mountains "Charlie ... found his tribe". She relies on numerous quotes by her subject in addition to commenting on his views over leadership, team spirit etc. After valiant attempts at rescue the tragic loss of Art Gilkey on K2 in 1953 led to Houston giving up expedition climbing, but a heroic reputation was established and he was later to receive many honours and honorary membership of American Alpine Club, Climbers' Club (referred to as Welsh!) and others. He never lost contact with the mountaineering fraternity and could be fiercely critical of evolving developments. As a judgemental idealist he was equally outspoken in his professional life where he inflicted damage upon himself as belief in his own medical practices and research led to disappointment and disagreement with colleagues. Charles Houston's professional life is chronicled as a series of ad hoc seized opportunities for pioneering research combined with mountaineering matters - particularly investigating affects of high altitude.
Bernadette McDonald deals skilfully with the numerous interconnections of Charles Houston's life including aspects of twentieth century issues, and she reveals an extraordinary and exciting but human and humble man who succeeded in so many ways, and yet who became depressed over his self-perceived failures. She ends `Brotherhood of the Rope' with reference to eulogies from mountaineers and medical men, and to Charlie finally acknowledging his life has influenced people positively "in ways that caused them to live their lives more fully". Her brilliant biography (short-listed 2007 Boardman Tasker Award) does great service to mountaineering literature as through a unique, complex and principled man it reflects on an era of past values.