Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination Paperback – 1 Jul 2008
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Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind is the most interesting of the crop of books published to mark the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Everest. Macfarlane is both a mountaineer and a scholar. Consequently we get more than just a chronicle of climbs. He interweaves accounts of his own adventurous ascents with those of pioneers such as George Mallory, and in with an erudite discussion of how mountains became such a preoccupation for the modern western imagination.
The book is organised around a series of features of mountaineering--glaciers, summits, unknown ranges--and each chapter explores the scientific, artistic and cultural discoveries and fashions that accompanied exploration. The contributions of assorted geologists, romantic poets, landscape artists, entrepreneurs, gallant amateurs and military cartographers are described with perceptive clarity. The book climaxes with an account of Mallory's fateful ascent on Everest in 1924, one of the most famous instances of an obsessive pursuit. Macfarlane is well-placed to describe it since it is one he shares.
MacFarlane's own stories of perilous treks and assaults in the Alps, the Cairngorms and the Tian Shan mountains between China and Kazakhstan are compelling. Readers who enjoyed Francis Spufford's masterly I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination will enjoy Mountains of the Mind. This is a slighter volume than Spufford's and it loses in depth what it gains in range, but for an insight into the moody, male world of mountaineering past and present it is invaluable. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'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
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Top Customer Reviews
This is all a bit jumbled. But, in conclusion: this is a very special book, in the tradition of writers like Bruce Chatwin and Barry Lopez in the way it works simultaneously with adventures and ideas, and in the way it thinks about the wild, physical world. READ IT if you love history, language or, indeed, mountains.
The other great book that readers either love or hate becauise of its literary and philosophical references and explorations is Peter Hillary's surprisingly brilliant IN THE GHOST COUNTRY (written with philosopher and poet John Elder). It goes even further than MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND by adopting a powerful and sometimes intimidating language of myth and dreams to articulate powerfully the psychological and emotional frailties and motivations of men driven to the edge. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Macfarlane traces western man's fascination with mountains, charting the history of mountains and of the men and women who sought to conquer them. The book is worth the cost alone for the description of Mallory's three expeditions to Everest, here portrayed as a love affair that completes take over his life with disastrous consequences.
But this is more than just a history. This is an examination of fascination and obsession, a journey through the mountains of the imagination.
For anyone who walks or climbs in mountains this book is as Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: a history of walking.
The author has been criticised by some for being more of a scholar than a climber. The suggestion is that as he does not come from the first division of risk takers on the mountains he can not speak authoritatively.
I do not think that the criticism stands. The quality of the work depends on taking a broad approach and there can be no question that the work is well researched.
The case study of Mallory is perhaps open to the charge of repeating information that is well known; however, it does highlight and illustrate the riddle of why a man with so much to live for should gamble his life away. And I think that there was at least an approach to an answer, that for many their experience in the mountains is of being more fully alive - making the rest of life seem drab by comparison; better to die living than not to live at all.
Where I was disappointed was that the focus was almost entirely on the elite mountaineer; why do folk attempt Everest (or K2)? This excludes the experience of the vast majority of lovers of the mountains, some of whom will not even climb them. I think he could have considered the ordinary folk and emotions such as friendship with the hills or feelings of belonging or "coming home".
I was pleased that there was some attempt to bring in the special link with animals that are genuinely wild, but felt that more could have been said about the joy of meeting truly wild animals in a shared environment.
In summary it is a great book, but could have been developed further.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Robert Macfarlane's writing is captivating and entrancing. This book held my full attention during a recent transatlantic flight and I could not even give into the nagging jetlag... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Why would I ever read a book on mountaineering? Because its written by Robert Macfarlane, poetic and lyrical; words are like silky water in his handsPublished 3 months ago by Laura Martin
Read this in the Alps. It made sense of what was around me.Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
I love the mountains and thought this book would engage with me, but I actually found this to be a bit waffley and wanted the author to get to the point. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
Overrated I'm afraid. Interesting concepts but a lot of description and repetition and the poetic language didn't make up for a lack of real substance in exploring the concepts,... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Southern Nomad
I can't really review this book as yet as I have ordered so many that I haven't had time to read them all especially as book club ones come first. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Mrs S Morland