Top critical review
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Enjoyable, but could have been taken further
on 1 August 2010
This book has had largely positive reviews and I echo most of the positive comments. Indeed I would add that the content is compelling and my attention was held to the end as I was looking forward to how the theme would be further developed.
The author has been criticised by some for being more of a scholar than a climber. The suggestion is that as he does not come from the first division of risk takers on the mountains he can not speak authoritatively.
I do not think that the criticism stands. The quality of the work depends on taking a broad approach and there can be no question that the work is well researched.
The case study of Mallory is perhaps open to the charge of repeating information that is well known; however, it does highlight and illustrate the riddle of why a man with so much to live for should gamble his life away. And I think that there was at least an approach to an answer, that for many their experience in the mountains is of being more fully alive - making the rest of life seem drab by comparison; better to die living than not to live at all.
Where I was disappointed was that the focus was almost entirely on the elite mountaineer; why do folk attempt Everest (or K2)? This excludes the experience of the vast majority of lovers of the mountains, some of whom will not even climb them. I think he could have considered the ordinary folk and emotions such as friendship with the hills or feelings of belonging or "coming home".
I was pleased that there was some attempt to bring in the special link with animals that are genuinely wild, but felt that more could have been said about the joy of meeting truly wild animals in a shared environment.
In summary it is a great book, but could have been developed further.