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on 10 December 2012
This remarkable book is not just about certain survivors of the 1st World War who go on to attack Everest. It is about the British way of life and how it changed after WW1. It makes uncomfortable reading.

I have to admit to anger as I was reminded of the horrors of the 1st World War. For example that '95% of officers had never read a military book of any kind. This cult of the amateur, militarily anti-intellectual, resulted in a leadership that was obtuse, wilfully intolerant of change, and incapable for the most part of innovative thought or action'. 'In four years at the head of the largest army the British Empire had ever placed in the field, a force that would suffer 2,568,834 casualties in France and Belgium alone, Haig never once visited the front; nor did he visit the wounded'.

'Karl Blenk, a German machine gunner of the 169th Regiment, wrote; "When the English started advancing we were very worried; they looked as though they must overrun our trenches. We were very surprised to see them walking, we had never seen that before. I could see them everywhere; there were hundreds. The officers were in front. I noticed one of them walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn't have to aim. We just fired into them. If only they had run they would have overwhelmed us.'

Newspapers reports of battles 'simply echoed official bulletins, which had little connection to reality. "Sir Douglas Haig telephoned last night" the Times noted on July 3, "to report that the general situation was favourable... Everything had gone well... effective progress... We got our first thrust well home, and there is every reason to be sanguine as to the result...'

Haig's daily routine included an afternoon constitutional riding a favourite horse - one of the highlights of his day. '...with his polished staff at his side, not a button or buckle amiss, allowed him to maintain the illusion that the world was still a place of gentlemen and order, and that war as an exercise had not lost its lustre or glory'. ' Haig famously asked Sidney Clive, his senior liaison to the French headquarters, "Have we really lost half a million men?" He had, and all for an advance of five miles'.

British public schools had reached their apogee in the decades before the 1st World War. 'The schools existed to create a cadre for the empire, civil servants to man the distant outposts, officers to lead the armies, politicians to determine the fate of millions of dark-faced subjects of the crown. Education was valued, with more than half of classroom work devoted to the classics, but for the most part the atmosphere in the schools was fiercely anti-intellectual. Their real purpose was to infuse students with a certain ethos, a blind obedience to those of higher rank, a reflexive inclination to dominate inferiors, and, above all, the cultivated air of superiority so essential to the stability of the empire'

A radical innovation in the 1922 Everest expedition was the use of oxygen. The Royal Geographic Society which - together with the Alpine Club - was the organising force behind the Everest expeditions, was slow to see its importance. 'Traditionalists ... questioned whether the use of supplementary oxygen was sporting'. Hinks the RGS secretary 'who knew nothing about mountaineering was the most vocal critic. "Only rotters would use oxygen" he insisted'. George Finch was the oxygen enthusiast. But Finch had not attended the proper schools. That he had chosen a career in the sciences, a profession unworthy of a gentleman, was another issue.

The issue of oxygen paralleled attitudes to Amundsen's use of dogs in polar expeditions - it was seen as less heroic than man-hauling, the preferred British way.

Mallory however, was convinced that oxygen would "serve us well". He was open to anything that would get them to the summit. Mallory was rather reluctant to join the 1924 expedition (following his past Everest experiences). He wrote '...I sometimes think of this expedition as a fraud from beginning to end, invented by the wild enthusiasm of one man; Youndhusband - puffed up by the would-be wisdom of certain pundits in the A.C.' (the Alpine Club). In the end, in 1924, after two unsuccessful attempts on the summit by the team, Mallory and Irvine were allowed to make a last-ditch attempt with oxygen available as needed.

These quotes cannot reflect the book's breadth and depth. It is critically fair. It is one of the most significant books I have read for some time.
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on 11 September 2017
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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 29 March 2016
good value for money.
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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 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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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 31 July 2017
Fastidiously researched and extremely well written, Into the Silence, chronicles the first recorded attempts on Everest. From the Great War to the final expedition in 1924, the author has selected the appropriate time period to capture the lives of all the main characters, successfully producing this unique manuscript. Although with many modern-day doubters, it is still an intriguing thought, if Mallory & Irvine summited Everest in 1924 and succumbed descending to Camp6. We will never know. Essential for the historian, mountaineer, trekker, traveller and curious reader. Highly recommended.
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on 20 July 2017
This is a completely engrossing account of those involved with the British attempts to climb Everest after WW1. The author argues well that the personal experiences of the climbers in the first world war, which are explained in some detail, played a major role in driving these men on in incredibly trying circumstances and allowed them to accept death as a potential, even likely, outcome.
There are many many heroes in this book, but for me that greatest sadness was the death of the youthful and utterly inexperienced Irvine.
A really wonderful and highly researched work.
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on 18 January 2017
One of the best histories I have read. The research skills and level of detail on display here are truly exceptional. In lesser hands, such detail could have resulted in a somewhat dry and tedious text. In Davis' hands - given the exceptional level of the writing which never lets up in almost 600 pages - it becomes the book's main strength. You know these men, you feel their hardships and their triumphs, and you're there with them every step of the way. I even found myself slowing down toward the end, neither wanting to wanting the book to end nor experience the inevitable, tragic denoument.

A couple of words of warning to potential readers. You'll need some significant time on your hands to get the most out of this. Given the shear number of characters, events and locations you'll probably find yourself getting lost if you limit yourself to only a few pages a day. And the usual warning for books in which the map pages will need to be accessed frequently (and for most readers they will need to be here) - probably not easy to attempt on the Kindle.
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