on 11 February 2014
What a great addition to mountaineering literature. Frank Smythe was a pioneering climber and a prolific author who was at the vanguard of pre-war climbing, along with Shipton and Tilman. Written by his son Tony, this book gives an extremely balanced view. It must be extremely difficult to write an unbiased and even biographer of your own father, but I feel that Tony Smythe has achieved this. He doesn't hide away from his flaws, but also tells the tale of his achievements too.
It's hard to know what impact the second world war had on the climbing careers of people such as Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton, Bill Tilman and Bill Murray, amongst others. It would appear that achievements may have been even greater and the development of climbing and mountaineering wouldn't have stalled.
on 16 December 2013
To all of us of a certain age Frank Smythe was one of our boyhood heroes along with Shipton
and Tilman. This book dispels some of the myths which grew up about our hero.
It is very well written and contains many surprises about the prewar mountaineering
scene. Above all it is scrupulously researched and presented honestly in a very balanced
manner which must have been difficulty considering the author is the son of our hero.
It is hair raising to realise that many of his climbs were done without crampons, involving a huge amount of step cutting. Only once in his sadly relatively short life did he use a piton for protection and then he thought he was cheating! What would he thought of all those fixed ropes on Everest.
This book compares very favourably with all the literature currently available on modern
Well worth the read!
on 19 December 2013
This is a book that is indeed about a famous mountaineer but it is far more than that. Tony Smythe has written a most unusual, highly readable and entertaining book about a tortured soul who achieves greatness. The beautifully described antics and adventures of an accomplished climber are but a foil to the real meat of the book which is an honest and yet sympathetic forensic dissection of Frank Smythe's true character. Tony, his son, pulls no punches but is not at all interested in a vacuous trashing of a reputation or rebellious daubings on headstones. The author is unfailingly
direct and fair and this allows the reader to hold up a mirror to their own decent impulses and darkest desires. This book is 5 stars all the way!
on 23 February 2014
I have read several accounts of Frank Smythe's climbs, but not yet had
the opportunity to read any of his books. This biography of Frank is
written by one of his sons. It must be a difficult task writing about
your father. However, Tony Smythe has done a magnificent job. He
presents a rounded portrait of his father discussing his many great
achievements, but not glossing over his flaws.
I was particularly interested to read his account of the routes on the
Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, having done one of them myself. Even today
these climbs are big challenges. In the days before modern ice axes,
crampons and clothing they were even more of a challenge. The Brenva
Face is directly in the line of the rising sun. It's important to
climb quickly to be high on the face before the sun softens the snow
and the stonefall and avalanches start. Without knowing they could
complete the climb and retreat being difficult or impossible, I can
only admire their commitment. I was aware that Frank had fallen out
with T Graham Brown, who was his companion on the two Brenva Face
routes, but didn't know any of the details. This book explains the
origins of their quarrel and the extreme lengths to which Brown
Franks achievements in the Himalaya are even more impressive. However,
the frequent expeditions came at a considerable cost to family
life. The author discusses these problems in an open and honest way,
without seeking to attribute blame.
on 17 December 2013
Frank Smythe was hugely influential to many of us. His books reached out beyond the usual climbing audience, and inspired many to take up this enthralling sport. Tony Smythe has done a superb job of writing his father's biography, and his balanced treatment of this sometimes difficult character has revealed Frank Smythe to us at last.
Well worth buying, reading and keeping.
on 29 December 2013
I enjoyed immensely reading about the life of Frank Smythe, My Father, Frank by his son Tony Smythe who has painted him human, warts and all. Hero he was and remains to me, but the FS of Tony's book is one with whom I can relate better. For me he has come through not merely a principled man, fully confident and heroic in the domain of mountains as nomads are in their passion and familiar surroundings ; as back in the plains, though universally admired, he was in the midst of people whom he could relate only sparingly, unlike those that were linked to him in trust at the end of a rope. Clearly he was a different person in these two worlds, yet always a loner. He died young, but achieved so much in life, as mountaineer, writer, explorer, botanist, yet it seems he harboured an inner turmoil for a lot that remained in him unfulfilled. He seemed to know that greatness had touched him, yet his heart remained in constant despair in a sense of incompleteness. That made him restless. Yet, in reading between the lines , I am left with a suspicion that despite his aloofness he longed to know his young sons better, to take them to the mountains with him, to feel the joy of recognition of his undeniable greatness, as seen through their eyes for the father they little knew. Maybe that remained the one great unfulfilled aspect of his life. The author's research and attempt to understand and to get to know his father rings truer than whatever I may imagine. It is a very fine book on the life of a wonderful, talented and among the greatest mountain personalities of all time.
Meher H Mehta, FRGS
Former Vice President, The Himalayan Club, Calcutta
on 15 January 2014
Now, I'm not a patient reader. Many mountaineering books have me skipping sections of dull prose. But this one had me reading the first 150 pages in almost a single sitting - admittedly it was a wet winter's day in the Lake District. The book related all the exciting escapades on the mountains but more importantly this is a well told 'life' of an important mountaineer. In fact, you get two 'lives' because the way the father's life is communicated acknowledges the author's perspective and relates incidents to his own life experiences and perceptions.
You might suspect a sanitised version of Franks life but this is no hagiography. Warts and all are there, reported and analysed. Clearly this is no 'dashed off' text but a detailed, authoritative work which has been years (perhaps decades) in its gestation.