Wednesday, 14 December 2011


The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

A slight misnomer: the attempted conquest of Everest, surely?  But it is wrong to quibble.  This is a book as big as its subject, a truly epic work.  The quite extraordinary men involved in the attempt to climb Everest had almost all been involved in World War One (Irvine, who disappeared with Mallory on the last attempt, was too young).  All had seen a lot of death. The hell of Everest was chosen in a way in which the hell of war was not.  While the latter had to be survived, Everest was to be lived.  It is humbling to get to know some of these characters, and it is Davis's greatest triumph to have brought them so vividly to life (and where possible he has done the same with the Sherpas who left no record).  None were without fault, but their virtues were greater than their vices.  They all wrote terrifically well - letters, journals, notes, reminiscences.  It is hard to imagine a present day expedition of such hardship that would bring forth so literate and so evocative a flood of prose.  A wonderful book, and terribly sad.

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