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Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination Paperback – 1 Jul 2008
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'Macfarlane writes very well - he loves the mountains as much as anyone - very personal - everyone should read it' Trail 'The most exhilarating history of mountaineering - less the tale of how mountains got climbed than the story of why they became objects of such fascination to us - a riveting read' Jeremy Paxman, Guardian Summer Reads 'Of all the books published to mark the 50th anniversary of climbing Mount Everest, Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind stands out as by far the most intelligent and interesting - he can be as poetic as he is plucky' --Economist
A dramatic, richly imagined look at our fascination with mountains. --Sunday Times Cultures' 100 Books to Love
Why do so many feel compelled to risk their lives climbing mountains? During the climbing season, one person a day dies in the Alps, and more people die climbing in this season in Scotland than they do on the roads. "Mountains of the Mind" pursues a fascinating investigation into our emotional and imaginative responses to mountains, and how these have changed over the last few centuries. It is rich with literary and historical references, and punctuated by beautifully written descriptions of the author's own climbing experiences. There are chapters on glaciers, geology, the pursuit of fear, the desire to explore the unknown, and the desire to get to the summit, and the book ends with a gripping account of Mallory's attempt on Everest. "Mountains of the Mind" is a beautifully written synthesis of climbing memoir and cultural history.See all Product description
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The book ranges from scholarly examinations of how various literary luminaries reacted to and thought about mountains, to geology and natural history, to highly personal accounts of expeditions McFarlane has taken part in, interwoven with some thrilling tales of first ascents, desperate rescues, and the like. As a whole, it does hold together well, and some of the source material he uses from past writers is really interesting. McFarlane's literary background shines through as he elucidates on Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Goethe's responses to the Alps, as well as more expected Naturalists and travellers' accounts, before a final lengthy chapter where he recounts George Mallory's doomed attempts on Everest in the 1920s in the light of what he's already explained about mountains in the Western imagination.
If you're looking for a book about mountaineering, or some thrilling tales of derring do, there are better books than this. If you've already read a lot of those, though, and you want a more thoughtful book which really wrestles with the questions of what is so special about mountains and why are people driven to risk their lives climbing them, then this is a unique and fascinating read. I'm probably being harsh giving 4 rather than 5 stars, but I felt, if anything, that some sections felt a little light and the writer would have benefited from a bit more length to really build on some points. I'd have gladly have read another hundred pages.
Surely each of these titles, and there are several, will become a Classic - there is so much beauty in the ideas and in the language used to express them.
I'm a keen skier and love mountains generally (although a fear of heights means climbing's never going to be for me!) and I really enjoyed this book, even though it seemed a bit of a jumbled collection of mountain-related writings to an extent.