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From mountaineering experiences since the 1960s, including numerous difficult and dangerous first ascents, David Roberts is recognized as a top-class mountaineer. As well as being a practitioner with an in-depth knowledge of the sport he is a successful writer and has published various articles and books on his own exploits but also to profile mountaineers and investigate their activities. Such is `True Summit' as a forensic examination of Maurice Herzog and his classic book `Annapurna' telling the story of the 1950 first ascent of an 8000 metre Himalayan peak. It is dedicated to Louis Lachenal, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rébuffat, 3 of the world's best mountaineers at the time, and whose contributions to the triumph of Annapurna went largely unsung. Herzog's self-centred idealistic story stood alone for nearly 50 years, but almost by chance Roberts discovered that in addition to the oath of obedience taken by the original Annapurna team members there was a requirement to sign a contract undertaking not to publish "in any form, public speeches, radio or television broadcasts, books, articles, interviews, conferences, official statements, published photos or films". After the moratorium expired fellow summiter Louis Lachenal produced an autobiographical memoir, but from Michel Guérin, specialist publisher of mountain books, Roberts further discovered this had been seriously edited to ensure it did not undermine Herzog's `Annapurna', and in 1996 Guérin published Lachenal's account including restoration of suppressed passages. Also in 1996 Yves Ballu published a biography of Gaston Rébuffat which corroborated Lachenal's version of events and cast new light. Roberts carefully scrutinized new evidence and investigated the various responses by other leading mountaineering writers; he had meetings with the surviving family members of the Annapurna team; and also with Herzog himself who in 1998 published a memoir `L'Autre Annapurna' with discrepancies and differences to his 1951 expedition book. `True Summit' is largely an exposé on how Maurice Herzog told partial truths and managed to take credit over other team members; and it is coupled with insights on how the major players inspired and influenced David Roberts' own mountaineering objectives. He avoids temptations for voyeuristic de-bunking, and indeed he acknowledges Herzog's courage and perseverance, but he perceptively sets the record straight and he impartially chronicles the remarkable contributions via Lachenal's sacrifice on summit day and the rescue support of Terray, Rébuffat and others in getting everyone off the mountain. He finishes by quoting Lachenal's own closing lines which qualify and confirm his loyalty to Herzog: "That march to the summit was not a matter of national glory. It was une affaire de cordée". `True Summit' is an important historical document - and a great read.
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This book explores what may actually have happened during the 1950 French expedition to the Himalayas which was 'led' by Maurice Herzog. This expedition was the first to summit an 8,000 meter peak, and it was the cause for much nationalist pride in post-war France.
'True Summit' is a very interesting read in terms of its research, as well as its historical and archival detail. Its author, David Roberts, is himself a mountaineer and has an innate understanding of the subject matter of the book, which contributes to its success.
I would, however, highly recommend that one first read Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna" which is Herzog's first person, romanticized account of the expedition and the source for much of what is analyzed in this book. Reading it will ground readers of 'True Summit' in the context out of which this book arises, and will make it that much more enjoyable.
After the ostensible summit of Annapurna (more about this in 'True Summit') by Herzog and Louis Lachenal who were aided in their harrowing descent by fellow expeditioners, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, only Maurice Herzog went on to become a national hero in France. The other three mountaineers, all of whom were more experienced and proficient, were largely ignored in what was to become a carefully orchestrated, media event around Maurice Herzog.
"True Summit" attempts to set the story straight and right past wrongs. It also helps to debunk the self-serving, though gripping, sanitized account authored by expedition leader Maurice Herzog. What emerges is a more realistic picture of what may have actually transpired during that fateful, 1950 French expedition.
This book ensures that the contributions of three of the main protagonists, Lachenal, Terray, and Rebuffat, all highly experienced mountaineers from the Chamonix region of France, will not be forgatten. It is a memorial to their efforts during that expedition and well worth reading.
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on 9 June 2015
An very interesting, thought inspiring book discussing the validity of the original book on Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. Best read immediately after the original. I thought this book was very well written.
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on 2 May 2016
Another side of the story.
It is a MUST if you had read "Annapurna" by M Herzog already. It puts everything in perspective.
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