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Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination Hardcover – 8 May 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 8 May 2003
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; 1st edition (8 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862075611
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862075610
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 273,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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


'A seriously good book' -- P.J. Kavanagh, The Spectator

'An imaginative, original essay in cultural history - a book that evokes as well as investigates the fear and wonder of high places' -- William Fiennes

'He is an engaging writer, his commentary, always crisp and relevant, leavened by personal experience beautifully related’ -- Observer

'He writes with tremendous maturity, elegance and control. A powerful debut, a remarkable blend of passion and scholarship’ -- Evening Standard

'The sort of book that restores confidence in the travel genre. Erudite, full of information and charged with passion' -- Robyn Davidson

‘A distinguished book that jolted my heart. Adventurous, passionate, intensely romantic...fizzes with insights into the sublime madness of mountaineering’ -- Roger Deakin

‘An impressive first book’ -- John Carey, Sunday Times

‘Extremely elegant and compelling…a book which comes very much from the heart, and is informed throughout by Macfarlane’s own passion' -- Sunday Telegraph

‘If you have ever wondered why people climb mountains, then here is your answer. A brilliant book,beautifully written’ -- Fergus Fleming

‘Vivid and original...Intelligent without being academic, the writing contains many pleasures, and made me want to be out there again in snow, wind and rain’ -- Andrew Greig

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I came on line to write an independent review of this brilliant book, but then I saw the review by the reader from Fort William, and it made me rethink what I was going to say. First of all, it's important to say that this is top-class book; a totally new kind of writing about mountains. Second off, it's not just a book about mountains, but about how history works, why people behave the way they do towards different types of landscapes, how we think the world into being, and what issues like guilt, love and betrayal mean when looked at in historical and not just individual terms. in many ways, this is a book of philosophy and poetry, rather than a history of mountaineering, which is perhaps why some people - including the reviewer from Fort William - have been disappointed. It's obvious that Macfarlne isn't a top-drawer climber; he never says that he is in the book, and anyone who knows anything about serious mountaineering could tell he's not. So there's no secret, or misdescription there. The point is, I think, that eveyrone who goes to the mountains goes to them because, in some sense, they love the way they look, and so this book does answer the big WHY question.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Every time there is a spectacular death in the hills, the old question starts up a babbling again: WHY DO THEY (mountain climbers) DO IT? The answers lies less in ``because the mountains are there'' -- and more, from the deepest psychological quandaries of ``who am I?''. Adventure jocks rarely talk in such metaphysical and existstential terms -- and clearly a good number of them have no time for MOUNTAIN OF THE MIND which has rightly turned to poetry and philosophy for both the language and cultural parrallels that ultimately humanises mountain mystique. I say humanizes... because the game itself is full of people wjho see themselves as more than human, superhuman, separate from the rabble. This is a terrific book.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
This stunning, magnificent, elegantly written book is one of the best books I've read this year. Some reviewers are entirely missing the point. Yes, of course it's about mountains and mountaineering - at its basic level. But its real concerns resonate so much more broadly and deeply. It's about history and geology, natural history and philosophy, literature and poetry; and it's about culture and psychology and self-discovery. And ultimately, after a meticulously woven argument bringing all these threads together, it's about tragedy, and about knowledge and about love. As another reviewer acutely observed, Macfarlane, like Hopkins, encounters the particular nature of things, and celebrates it, in language that's enormously potent, imaginative, and wide-ranging in imagery and vocabulary. Yet these writerly techniques never even for one moment get in the way of meaning or accessibility. It's at all times page-turningly readable. And the chapters just get better and better throughout. In short, it's a work of art. I just can't wait for his next book - whatever it's about.
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Format: Hardcover
This IS one of the most absorbing books I have read for a long time. What is it with our fascination with mountains?
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.
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By A Customer on 12 Jun. 2005
Format: Paperback
This book has been deservedly praised for the way it traverses a great deal of material with such elegance and elan. It retells some familiar stories in a fresh way and neatly blends cultural history with evocative descriptions of the author's mountain experiences. Although the central theme that landscapes are culturally determined is familiar and the format of these kind of cultural histories is now well established (Sprawson on swimming, Solnit on walking, Woodward on ruins etc.), the book never feels tired and the pace is maintained until the last page. MacFarlane is sure footed on writers like Shelley or Dr Johnson, stumbles a bit on art (Alexander Cozens was not a nineteenth century artist!) and is really in his element with anecdotes on Victorian climbing. 'Mountains of the Mind' centres on European attitudes in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, culminating in Mallory's ascent. This leaves a slightly disconcerting gap between the 1920s and MacFarlane's own recent experiences: it would be interesting to read how cultural attitudes have changed since Mallory's time. Although the mountains of Asia are central to the narrative, the cultural attitudes to mountains in Asia are not discussed. So for example, he doesn't discuss Hsieh Ling-Yun or Han Shan or the Western beat poets and climbers subsequently inspired by them. Then again, it's such a mountainous subject it would have been a challenge to include everything in one volume.
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