on 6 July 2015
Tom Holzel and Audrey Salkeld’s book sets out to examine whether or not Mallory and Irvine, or one of them, climbed Everest in 1924. It does so by examining Mallory’s life and character, the results of the three 1920s British Everest expeditions and through a critical examination of Mallory and Irvine’s final, fatal ascent. The original edition of this book dates from 1986 with a revised first and new final chapter added by Holzel in 1999. Ironically, these two later chapters have been superceded by more recent studies which followed the finding of Mallory’s body, whereas the parts written earlier remain a credible account.
The early chapters are a largely neutral narrative of Mallory’s early life and climbing experiences that leave most of the analysis of how these affected him afterwards until later. The authors present Mallory as a natural athlete who became a technically expert alpinist but with a tendency to be absent-minded and over-confident. By 1920, several of his climbing contemporaries had become causalities in the Great War, so he was an obvious candidate for the 1921 Everest expedition. His efforts in this and the 1922 expedition made it likely he would be picked for 1924.
The account of these expeditions is both balanced and comprehensive. It addresses a number of contentious issues: why George Finch was overlooked for the 1921 and 1924 expeditions, the fragility and weight of early oxygen equipment and the less valid objections to its use and Mallory’s share of responsibility for seven porters’ deaths in 1922. These are dealt with fairly and with understanding.
The next section deals with Mallory’s personality and motivation. Many writers have imposed their own perceptions on Mallory and hardly allow him to emerge in his own right. The authors note Mallory gave little of himself away except to those closest to him: even his letters to his wife, which are quoted extensively, are not very revealing. They suggest that he was less affected than others by his wartime experience and present arguments that he chose Irvine as his partner because he was young, energetic and handy with the oxygen equipment as well as an alternative to possible aesthetically based reasons. In 1924, Mallory was concerned that his best climbing days were over and uncertain about his future career. This may have inclined him to take risks and underestimate dangers but probably not to throw his life away if he had no chance of success.
In the final chapter, Holzel sets out the circumstances in which Mallory could have reached the summit alone. It relies on a number of assumptions which were unprovable when he wrote, including that he had split from Irvine and that the weather conditions did not make the final part of the climb impossible. However, when Mallory’s corpse was discovered it was encircled by a broken rope, suggesting that the two men fell when roped together causing the rope to break, and the finding of the expedition’s records of the weather at Base camp suggests conditions near the summit had greatly deteriorated by the likely time when one or both could, using Holzel’s time scale, have been nearing the summit.
Although Holzel’s account has been superceded, this does not detract much from the rest of Holzel and Audrey Salkeld’s interesting narrative which is well worth reading. However, at the end Mallory remains an enigma.
on 15 February 2000
The tale of Mallory & Irvine is a fascinating one and Holzel & Salkeld book does the tale justice giving a thoroughly entertaining description of all the expeditions and of Mallory's life. What lets this book down is an over analysis of the facts and what could have happened to Mallory & Irvine, and I would have liked to have known more about the discovery of the body of Mallory, the important news, which is skipped over.
Overall a book well worth reading.
on 10 December 2000
Holzel's name is mud among the British Climbing establishment, ever since he managed to corral a genuine Everest historican--his co-author Audrey Salkeld--and write this book. Actually, it was mud long before. In the early '70s, this American businessman and amateur climber had the audacity to spring a theory on the British public that one of their greatest heroes--George Mallory--might have succeeded, rather than failed to have climbed Mt. Everest in 1924.
The British Climbing Establishment, a number of who knew and revered Mallory, were outraged. Had this foreign interloper no sense of history, no shame? The statement that proved his total lack of knowledge of this epic saga, the critics patiently explained to the media, was his claim that proof could still be found on the body of one of the climbers--he said it would be Irvine-who should still be found on a snow terrace on Mt. Everest at 8200m. If somebody would only go and look, the camera Irvine was carrying would hold pictures of the fatal climb, perhaps even showing a photo from the summit.
The clamor rose a few decibels more when in 1980 Holzel reported to the NY Times that the body of "an English dead" had indeed been found on Everest's North Face at 8100m by a Chinese porter who--get this--died the day after reporting his find. Another "Everest Ghost" the British public exclaimed. "How convenient" the establishment elders muttered. In 1986, Holzel and Salkeld mounted an expedition to the north side of Everest to search for the body at 8200m. They failed in all respects save one. On literally the last day of their three-month expedition, Holzel managed to meet with the tent-mate of the person who claimed to have found the English dead. This claim had been strenuously denied by the Chinese Mountaineering Association, and other government officials. But the tent-mate admitted that Wang Hung-Bao had said he had indeed found "a foreign mountaineer."
This classic book contains two exciting stories: First there is the story of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who were last spotted seemingly a few hours below the summit of the world's highest peak, which raised the glorious possibility that they had perhaps reached the summit before perishing on the descent. Salkeld in particular has tracked down and discovered a trove of unpublished letters, and theirs is the first modern reading of Mallory the man, a reading much necessitated in view of the previous biographies, many of which verge on hagiography. And there is the second story, equally fascinating, of the authors' heroic efforts to find out what did happen. It is this story, a modern tale, that shows how large a role is played by luck when the ambition is there to pave its path.
There are now a slew of new books on this stirring subject-most based on the Simonson Expedition of 1999 which discovered the body--not of Irvine--but of George Mallory himself, and--astonishingly--discovered it exactly where Holzel had predicted nearly 30 years earlier. The Simonson book "Ghosts of Everest" is also required reading for anyone interested in this famous saga. What I found the most interesting in "The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine" was the acuity of their theorizing and their genius at selecting certain facts from amidst a welter of conflicting data, facts that seemed strange selections at first but which then turn out--10 or 20 years later--to have been exactly correct. Holzel's ideas about who Wang found (Mallory and not Irvine) once again go against the current wisdom; but his description of the deductive reasoning by which he arrived at his latest conclusions are alone worth the price of the book. As for the rest of it--well, it was an instant classic when it came out in 1985. With the several new chapters and a forward by Expedition Leader Eric Simonson, it certainly deserves a central spot on every adventurer's bookshelf. As historical detective work--THE central spot.
on 6 January 2000
I am the first to admit that, apart from remembering their names from some story in a schoolbook, I knew very little about George Mallory or Andrew Irvine. This book was chosen because I thought it would be an interesting read during my lunch hours. It has proved to be a fascinating tale of the bravery of two individuals who, in their time, pushed the limits of human endurance. The dry start to the book is worth persevering with, because once the actual expeditions are described it gives a great insight into the minds of those pioneers of climbing, and the barriers, both physical and political, that they had to overcome. This was read prior to the discovery of Mallorys body, and all the speculation that has produced, but I, for one wished at the end that there was some proof they had made it. A great read for anyone interested in the pioneering spirit that seemed so common (Scott, Schackleton etc) in the early twentieth century.
on 28 February 2015
After watching the film of Mallory and Irvine's climb, I wanted to know more. I couldn't put thus book down. It is very informative and looks at so many angles of how and why and if certain things happened. After reading the book especially the fact that both had died, it bought a tear to my eye as I thought I knew all of the men on the 1924 expedition. I was climbing Everest with them. A fascinating read, one I would recommend. ..brilliant.
on 24 December 2009
As I said in the title this book is perhaps the best crafted, well documented, beautifully written book on George Mallory. I recommend it strongly for anyone who is first starting to know more about the 1920' Everest climbing attempts.
on 10 February 2013
This book gives the reader a very good undertanding of the mystery. It is unknown whether Mallory and Irvine got to the top of Everest or not, and this book covers a good variety of theories that could have happened.
A fair bit of the book concentrates on Mallory as a person, it doesn't only talk of the mystery, which, in my opinion is a good thing. Trying to get an understanding of him helps determine what he may have done at the second step under a blanket of clouds, so as unrelated to the mystery it might seem to talk of his background, later on in the book it becomes apparent.
Do not expect an answer to the mystery at the end. Reading this book helps one create their own oppinion of the mystery, whether it be that they didn't make it, they did, or no further opinion. Rightly so, as the chances are no one will ever know for certain.
In conclusion, the book is well written, exciting, interesting and factual. Its also a must read for anyone interested in the mystery, I would highly recommend it even to people who say they aren't.
on 20 August 2013
Good read and lots of information and opinions on whether mallory and irvine did make it to the summit of everest
on 4 May 2013
Most enjoyable Book. A fascinating read with enough detail to make you go on until the end. It is well written.
on 30 August 2012
I am usually a fiction only person, but this is a fantastically gripping read. Highly recommended.
Truly inspirational story; beautifully written and told.