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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Dougal Haston: The Philosophy Of Risk
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 September 2008
`The Philosophy of Risk' is Jeff Connor's second biography of a talented Scottish climber - the first subject was John Cunningham with a forthright and straightforward account, but this concerns a more evasive and complex character: Dougal Haston. The book is based on careful and comprehensive research with sources including many contemporary climbers and commentators as well as Haston's own notes, diaries, journal articles and books. It sets out the life of Dougal Haston from his unruly childhood in Currie to his final chaotic years in Switzerland. Though Dougal lost many friends to the mountains, he himself was regarded as the `ultimate survivor' even though as a risk-taker his death was not a universal surprise. Matching the title of the book the author refers repeatedly to the weighing up of risks - from describing Dougal's realisation on his first ever route, Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor, that "this was an environment of overt risk and yet reassuring security", to the skiing accident above Leysin that killed him at age 36 years when he reckoned confidently "he could outrun any small slides" and proceeded in spite of avalanche warnings.

Though assisting the reader to assess mindset and motives of Dougal Haston there is a slightly worrying degree of speculation in some of Connor's writing, but between the initial rock climb in Scotland and the final snow slope in Switzerland are all desired elements of a good mountaineering book. There are accounts of many fine achievements including both phenomenal successes as well as failures in Britain, the Alps, the Himalaya and elsewhere. These embrace rock and ice in Scotland, ascents of Alpine North faces, Annapurna, Everest, Mount McKinley and much more. Emphasis is given to those which raised Haston's public profile such as the winter ascent of The Eiger and the BBC documentary on the Old Man of Hoy. Additionally Connor concentrates on the elite of mountaineers amongst Dougal's mentors and companions including Jimmy Marshall, Robin Smith, Don Whillans, Doug Scott and Chris Bonington and anyone else operating at top levels in the 1960's and 1970's. The book is a `roll of honour' of men and mountains - a roll where Dougal Haston deserves his place with total respect for his climbing and mountaineering talents, but hard-hitting remarks on his turbulent lifestyle. Other aspects of Haston's life are covered embracing his upbringing, brief university education and the ways and means of earning his living with mountaineering schools in Scotland and Switzerland, and his social and marital arrangements.

There are quotes from Dougal's private metaphysical musings and reference to two largely autobiographical books: `Eiger Direct' and `In High Places'. As a biography Jeff Connor's 'The Philospthy of Risk' exposes more than Dougal was prepared to divulge. For the first time there is mention of a tragic episode in Glencoe when driving whilst unfit through drink Dougal killed a walker on the road. Rumour-mongering commenced and continued, and though Connor claims the incident to be an accident he leaves doubts as to the effect on Haston who hardly spoke of it later. Theorising continued after Dougal's death with hints at suicidal tendencies to sully even further his less than savoury antisocial and anti-establishment characteristics. After the road accident Dougal certainly set himself increasingly severe and risky tests in mountain environments, but it may be argued there was no actual personality change, and he merely persisted with what was an anarchic approach throughout his entire life. Haston also wrote a novel `Calculated Risk', published after his death, in the Foreword of which Doug Scott reinforces speculation by reckoning "it contained a wealth of information that did not appear in factual autobiographical writing".

Jeff Connor's biography refers repeatedly to the celebrity status of Dougal Haston, and the headlines he attracted in life appear set to persist after his death. It is always difficult for biographers to be totally conciliatory and conclusive, and especially so for a subject as complex as Dougal Haston. Almost inevitably Connor pens a portrait of Dougal off the mountain as a wild, womanising, brawling, boozer; and on the mountain as self-absorbed, arrogant, and ambitious, yet also as an amazing achiever. Some readers may be disenchanted over the direction taken and would prefer a more forensic examination of evidence rather than subjective supposition. Others may resent elements of `debunking' of someone regarded as one of the most outstanding and brilliant of climbers. Jeff Connor may not have presented the best balance but he accurately picks up on a quote by an admirer of Dougal: "heroes are not necessarily good guys, but they are big, really big personalities".
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on 28 May 2009
Dougal Haston was a legendary climber, but his own writings are blighted by over-philosophising the smallest details, and read more like Nietzsche than a lad from the borders of Edinburgh. However, this is a finely detailed and well-written book from Jeff Connor, practically Haston's official biographer. As is the norm it follows the life of Haston from climbing the hills near Currie to becoming Scotlands, and eventually one of the Worlds finest mountaineers. What this book does brilliantly however, is attempt to unravel Haston as a man, not a climber. What inspired and drove him, his relationships, and why he was the way he was. There are excerpts from interviews with many of his closest friends, climbing partners and relationships, which paint far more of a picture than Connor's prose ever could.

It's a fascinating book about a fascinating man, and is certainly the book on Haston. If you have even a passing interest in Haston or the British climbing/mountaineering scene from the 50's to the 70's, of which Haston was undoubtedly one of the biggest characters, this book is worth every penny.
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on 10 October 2009
The book was an exceptional bit of writing bringing Dougal Haston the man, the climber, the person ... into real life. Having read different accounts from a variety of authors regarding Dougal Haston you develop a picture of a person and the type of lifethey lead. However, The Philosophy of Risk managed to portray the real image of Dougal Haston and how he came to be the climber/mountaineer he deeloped into. Good stuff.
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on 1 November 2009
I only found out about this book a few weeks ago and - having read both "In High Places" and "Eiger Direct" - decided that I'd like to read this too. It is presented in a very interesting fashion and is difficult to put down. The book gives great insight into the complicated character who was Dougal Haston. A great read, especially - but not only - for climbers or those who like to read about climbing.
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on 4 February 2002
Dougal haston was a hero of mine. Still is to an extent. However this book appears to be factually accurate and consequentially has changed my opinion.
This is a warts n all rundown of Dougals life fromclimbing on railway bridges in currie, to climbing himlayan giants with bonington and co.
He was far more of a nutcase than I originally gave him credit for. The reason why he was so good at altitude was his preparedness to go out on a limb. His achievements with scott and whillans were exceptional.
However, I did not know he served 60 days in Barlinnie Jail, glasgow, for Causing death by drink driving. Probably forgivable if it wasnt for the fact that he drank and drove again afterwards. Idiot.
A good read, that has changed my opinion of one of my heroes. I am not disappointed that I read it all the same
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on 12 March 2003
I brought this biography because I had read of Haston in various expedition books and he seemed rather an enigmatic figure. This biography is meticulous in its approach and does not try to explain the man in the context of his times, instead the reader is left to judge Haston on the bear bones of his achievements and failings. That the latter dominate makes this a rather uncomfortable read though this is hardly the author's fault. The title of the biography 'The Philosophy of Risk' is never clearly explained which I found disappointing though this might have been because Haston did not appear to have a coherent philosophy of anything. On my reading of this biography Haston seems little more than an egocentric hedonist notable only for his immense physical strength at high altitude.
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on 19 December 2013
Interesting account of super climber and fearless Dougal Haston. His personal flaws,
which are not insubstantial, are exposed. This account of his climbs and personal life will be irresistible
for anyone interested in climbing and climbers
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on 28 January 2014
What a performer but at the same time what a broken person.
You get to know him from both sides, the true adventurer and the person who did not know where he wanted to go.

Great story, I can only recommend it.
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on 5 March 2008
Dougal Haston was possibly the best high-altitude climber of his generation. He also had a wild and shambolic private life. This biography does not pull any punches. Great for the armchair climber
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on 17 March 2004
sounds like a real charmer...He could fit in Duango, CO climbing scenc very well...The tough and aggressive always prevail.
Thats the only way to go these days.
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