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on 29 January 2012
A magnificent work which took the author over ten years to research and write. The sub-title is important. This is as much about the war experiences that shaped the men of the 1921-24 expeditions. Each one had been doctors, infantry or artillery officers in the worst of the Western Front battles. From that, they were determined, resourceful and infinitely brave. The war experiences were searing. Mallory wrote home from the front, "If hereafter, I say to a friend "Go to Hell", he will probably reply, "Well I don't mind much if I do. Haven't I perhaps been there"?

The central figure is Mallory, friend of Keynes, Graves and much of what was later the Bloomsbury set. An enigmatic figure, Davis captures the genius of the man. It is Mallory who reconnoitered and figured the route up the North Cole. Mallory who established the Camp systems. Mallory who confronted the Second Step. Any climber on Everest follows his footsteps.

Davis gives us a rich cast: Sikhdar, who calculated the exact height of Everest within 28' in 1854 from observations 120 miles away, using pen and paper; why we call it the Norton Couloir, why all parties when climbing from the North, use the East Rongbuk; Somervell, a doctor mentored by Treves, who coughed up his entire mucous membrane and worked as a hospital volunteer in India for 40 years; Finch, who pioneered Oxygen use, climbed higher that anyone at the time and was the reluctant step father of Peter; Odell who made the famous sighting and climbed to Camp VI twice in four days and slept at over 23,000' for twelve days.

The courage and determination of the men, using primitive equipment and improvising on camps and routes, is breathtaking. And contrasts with the Valley Boy insensitivity of the crew that found Mallory in 1999.

I found myself flipping to the contemporary photographs of the climbers, trying to reconcile their actions and feats with the faces looking at us from 90 years ago. This is an epic book.
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on 5 November 2012
Wade Davis has set himself a challenge trying to write about the series of Expeditions to Everest by the British in the 1920s which eventually led to Mallory and Irvine's deaths during the 1924 summit attempt. Not only is the story long and complicated (those expecting just the story of the final expedition might be surprised by how much exploration and preparation went before - Mallory doesn't even feature until a good way through the book), but Davis is also keen to explain the motivations of those involved and the cultural importance of climbing Everest in broader terms, with a focus on the Great War and on British Imperialism.

At first, I didn't entirely buy into his focus on the War. It seemed a bit overstated, but I read on because the stories are well told and full of interesting detail - his research is really exhaustive, as the huge notes section demonstrates. Eventually, it really does knit together, and you begin to understand the thoughts and actions of the climbers very much in the light of their experience and era. I came away not only with a better understanding of the events he focuses on, but also with more knowledge about the politics and arts of the period. Davis seems comfortable writing about arts, literature, Tibetan Buddhism, and a range of other subjects which really help to add context to his story.

So in summary, a great tale, thoroughly engaging and well-paced, with interesting details and speculations throughout. One of the most enjoyable and informative books I've read in some time, and a book which kindles your interest in a variety of topics and sent me off with an interest in a string of other topics. You can't ask for much more than that...
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on 9 April 2017
Rather a log-winded tale, but some interesting parts too.
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on 2 May 2017
Extraordinary men , extraordinary times. A thoroughly well researched account of daring do undertaken with a back cloth of tragedy we can barely comprehend. Another testament of youth.
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on 30 May 2013
Well researched and interesting information on the individual members of the expedition inclusive of management and the leaders of the time. The impact of the experiences of these men who survived the trenches of the First World War was particularly interesting along with the way of life in the then more remote area of the world to be changed forever by the exploration of the region pre and post expedition
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on 7 May 2017
Absolutely brilliant. A performance of writing which deserves standing ovations. Wade takes you into the depths of crevices of horror and unbelievable persevere nice.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 March 2012
There is no need to be a mountaineer to appreciate this account of the early attempts to scale Mount Everest. Wearing a Tweed jacket, making reluctant use of heavy oxygen canisters because he had seen their benefit in action, but lacking the nylon ropes, hi-tech crampons and other paraphernalia now available to reach the summit, George Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine disappeared in 1924, leaving the tantalising question as to whether they had managed to reach the top.

This is less a biography of Mallory, more a study of the exploration in the context of the 1920s, in particular the grim legacy of the First World War, its horror and folly described here with particular harsh clarity: the British Establishment saw the conquest of Everest as an antidote to what Churchill called "a dissolution..weakening of bonds...decay of faith" plus climbers like Mallory diced with death quite casually having seen it close at hand so often but somehow survived the trenches.

The British Empire seemed to dominate the world, although the cracks were starting to show, so it was still possible for Curzon, Viceroy of India, to assert an Englishman's natural right to be first to the top of Everest! A skilful climber was forced out of one team because he had been a conscientious objector.

Since what is now known to be the easier route through Nepal was barred, the expeditions of 1921-24 approach through Tibet, encountering all the wild beauty and mystery of this unfamiliar culture, from the fields of wild clematis to the barren valley trails marked with stone shrines and inhabited by hermits whose self-denial seemed a waste of time to the mountaineers, although they appreciated in turn that the local people thought the same of their activities. Respectful of mountain deities and demons, the Tibetans even lacked a word for "summit".

With blow-by-blow day-to-day accounts, Wade Davis supplies often fascinating detail of the planning of the expeditions, problems over porters and pack animals, difficulties of surveying the mountains accurately to find a suitable route to the top, the relationships between the climbers - great camaraderie versus frequent friction-, the hardship and often foolhardy bravery of the ascents, the unappetising sound of the meagre rations of fried sardines and cocoa, agonies of frostbite, thirst, and having to turn back close to the summit rather than risk getting benighted on an exposed precipice and above all, the astonishing first sight of the high peaks when the unpredictable clouds and mists disappeared.

The author conveys a strong sense of what it must have felt like to climb: the grind, the exhilaration, the sudden unexpected accidents, the shock after surviving a fall, the exhaustion, the awareness of self-imposed folly, the total physical and mental collapse of some, for others the compulsion to press on.

I found it quite hard to follow the precise details of the routes with the various camps set up on the way, which is a pity as it destroys one's enjoyment of some key sections. I overcame this difficulty by looking up maps and cross-sections on Google Images, but it is a pity Wade Davis and his publisher did not agree to include these in the text, with appropriate photographs, or they could have developed a website to provide this useful information.

This book really brings home how much the early ascents were based on trial and error, and how commercial and political pressures added to a tendency to be over-ambitious, as climbers persisted in aiming for the summit with inadequate resources and preparation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 March 2012
There is no need to be a mountaineer to appreciate this account of the early attempts to scale Mount Everest. Wearing a Tweed jacket, making reluctant use of heavy oxygen canisters because he had seen their benefit in action, but lacking the nylon ropes, hi-tech crampons and other paraphernalia now available to reach the summit, George Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine disappeared in 1924, leaving the tantalising question as to whether they had managed to reach the top.

This is less a biography of Mallory, more a study of the exploration in the context of the 1920s, in particular the grim legacy of the First World War, its horror and folly described here with particular harsh clarity: the British Establishment saw the conquest of Everest as an antidote to what Churchill called "a dissolution..weakening of bonds...decay of faith" plus climbers like Mallory diced with death quite casually having seen it close at hand so often but somehow survived the trenches.

The British Empire seemed to dominate the world, although the cracks were starting to show, so it was still possible for Curzon, Viceroy of India, to assert an Englishman's natural right to be first to the top of Everest! A skilful climber was forced out of one team because he had been a conscientious objector.

Since what is now known to be the easier route through Nepal was barred, the expeditions of 1921-24 approach through Tibet, encountering all the wild beauty and mystery of this unfamiliar culture, from the fields of wild clematis to the barren valley trails marked with stone shrines and inhabited by hermits whose self-denial seemed a waste of time to the mountaineers, although they appreciated in turn that the local people thought the same of their activities. Respectful of mountain deities and demons, the Tibetans even lacked a word for "summit".

With blow-by-blow day-to-day accounts, Wade Davis supplies often fascinating detail of the planning of the expeditions, problems over porters and pack animals, difficulties of surveying the mountains accurately to find a suitable route to the top, the relationships between the climbers - great camaraderie versus frequent friction-, the hardship and often foolhardy bravery of the ascents, the unappetising sound of the meagre rations of fried sardines and cocoa, agonies of frostbite, thirst, and having to turn back close to the summit rather than risk getting benighted on an exposed precipice and above all, the astonishing first sight of the high peaks when the unpredictable clouds and mists disappeared.

The author conveys a strong sense of what it must have felt like to climb: the grind, the exhilaration, the sudden unexpected accidents, the shock after surviving a fall, the exhaustion, the awareness of self-imposed folly, the total physical and mental collapse of some, for others the compulsion to press on.

I found it quite hard to follow the precise details of the routes with the various camps set up on the way, which is a pity as it destroys one's enjoyment of some key sections. I overcame this difficulty by looking up maps and cross-sections on Google Images, but it is a pity Wade Davis and his publisher did not agree to include these in the text, with appropriate photographs, or they could have developed a website to provide this useful information.

This book really brings home how much the early ascents were based on trial and error, and how commercial and political pressures added to a tendency to be over-ambitious, as climbers persisted in aiming for the summit with inadequate resources and preparation.
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on 14 November 2016
I find real life epic adventure stories much more fascinating than any fiction because they are peppered with details you just couldn't make up. This book is impeccibly researched and superbly written. You are right there with these amazing men as they survive WWI and then go on to attempt to climb the highest mountain on earth. Just the trek to Everest alone is an epic journey in itself. This book grips from the first page to the very last. One of the finest I've ever read!
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on 4 November 2013
'Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept climbing on that fateful day'

Well, I'm afraid that having read this monster book I still don't have more of an answer than I did before. I'm perhaps a little more enlightened on the issues that may have hampered the final assaults, such as the incorrect monsoon forecast and the Sherpa rescue, but not why Mallory kept going and at what point that was the fatal decision.

Having read the lower ratings on here I'm inclined to agree with some of the main points. I don't know enough about WWI to be able to be definitive myself but did get the feeling that some of the grander statements were repeated cliches and possibly as others have said, myths - or at least, over-simplifications.

By the time I was 'Wading' through the first parts of the initial Everest expedition I was starting to wilt. The pace of the book had slowed to a crawl - too much detail, especially in some of the earlier back stories had worn me down. It's not so much one book,or even two, but several bolted together. Many times the story seemed to be moving forward only to take another step backwards. The pace only quickened once we got on to the nitty-gritty of the 1922 expedition. Perhaps by then Mr Davis was feeling exhausted himself and needed to get a move on.

On the positive side there is a great deal of research and background, if that's what you're looking for. But one of the jacket's quotes, from Time Out, says it has the 'pace of a thriller' - er, they must have skipped the first 400 pages!!
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