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Fall of the Phantom Lord: Climbing and the Face of Fear Paperback – August 17, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1ST edition (August 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385486421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385486422
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,411,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dan Osman risks his life as a matter of course. While on the ground he shuffles simply enough from ad hoc carpentry gigs to loosely defined relationships, dodging cops along the way in a crummy, unregistered pickup. But get him on some obscenely vertical rock, and he becomes a high priest of climbing aesthetes. For two years, Atlantic Monthly columnist Andrew Todhunter followed the Tahoe-area climber and his band of devotees, limning the sublime riches enjoyed by some of the sport's most earnest practitioners. Such riches come at a cost, and a lesser writer could hardly ask us to understand the rationale behind "putting up" challenging new routes that sometimes require months of painstaking work, scaling frozen ice floes in the dark of night, and leaping hundreds of feet from windy bridge buttresses with merely a rope and harness to arrest the fall.

But Todhunter pulls it off. In prose that is as exacting as the rock and as graceful as a fine-tuned route, he miraculously transforms Osman's avocation into a reasonable and even artistic profession. The detailed climbing sequences make for compulsive reading, and the author's evocations of Osman's craft will convince even the most ardent flatlander of the endeavor's inherent sanity. What's more, once off the steep pitches, we glimpse a young man strangely vulnerable: trying to win extra cash from sponsors, cobbling together a nontraditional family life, and struggling to maintain his eminence in a sport in which the envelope is pushed further every day.

More than a profile of a climber and his métier, though, Fall of the Phantom Lord is also a personal meditation on fear and its management. Each move in a serious climber's shoes represents the possibility of sudden harm, and for the free climber--the true ascetic in the bunch--a bad mistake up high is almost certainly fatal. Reflecting on his own daredevil past, Todhunter measures the moral obligations of adulthood--and in his case, approaching fatherhood--against the satisfaction of outmaneuvering fate. Into the narrative he seamlessly interweaves tales of his extreme pursuits and near-death experiences (motorcycle wrecks, scuba diving miscues, and abandoned mountaineering expeditions). Pondering a rope jump with Osman, the author discovers he cannot shrug off his responsibilities: "Part of me wants to shake [Osman], to shout, 'You've got a daughter, man! Wake up!' ... I try to remember why I jumped from the cliff at Cave Rock, and the emotion--the extraordinary clarity--that it left me with, but I cannot. And part of me wonders, 'What happened? How did I become afraid?'" While he cannot fully resolve this conflict, Todhunter goes a long way toward delineating the lure of danger for those who chase it. --Langdon Cook --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A "fledgling alpinist" who writes on extreme sports for the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines, Todhunter set out in the mid 1990s to explore a tiny culture of rock climbers who choreograph free falls from dangerously high places. At its center was Dan Osman, a world-class climber who holds the record for free-falling and whose personality yields few handholds. Todhunter nevertheless manages to weave a complex story around this elusive subject, blending accounts of climbing with Osman in varied terrain with other travel and high-altitude memories while giving vent to his own conflicted feelings about the danger of such activities. When Todhunter undertakes a free fall from a 100-foot cliff supported only by climbing gear, he finds that "a part of me had not survived the jump, as if something small and shameful had remained behind... for a short while I had a glimpse of what it meant to be free." But as he and his wife contemplate having a child, he asks himself: "At what point... do statistically hazardous, entirely elective pastimes become unethical?" Although Todhunter's determination to get to the heart of his subjects' passion is well articulated, it is not contagious. At times, the book is redeemed by its crisp reportage and the author's empathetic self-questioning. But in too many moments?as when he explains the entire climbing rating system or aborts an attempt at the summit of California's Mount Shasta?Todhunter's narrative loses so much velocity that, ultimately, it may fail to hook even the armchair mountaineer.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Spell VINE VOICE on May 14, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I became fascinated with mountain climbing after reading about the Everest climbs. This book was even better. Osman is a fascinating individual completely consumed with rock climbing. His feats of free-fall are bizarre and will leave you mezmerized. But if you test fate too much, bad things happen.
While rock climbing is the center of this book, Osman was more than a climber. It's interesting to a guy who works at least 8 hours a day to read about a man who works only to support his "rock climbing habit". Osman was also a unique individual and I feel for his daughter having to grow up without this unique individual in her life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Though I am not an avid climber and sadly never had the opportunity to see Osman in action, Todhunter described Osman's psyche in such a way that I really felt that I came to know this courageous, reckless, inspiring climber. So much so, that when I learned of Osman's death in Yosemite last November, I literally cried. Todhunter introduced me to a man who, rather than running from his fear, literally jumped into its arms. We should all learn to be so courageous. I highly recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Using the example of legendary climber, Dan Osman's life, Andrew Todhunter paints a thorough and revealing picture of a modern day extreme sports enthusiast. Dan Osman, known as much for epic roped falls as his difficult sport routes at lake Tahoe's Cave Rock, allows Andrew Todhunter an intimate look at the many life experiences that constitute the lifestyle of an expert rock climber. The book provides breathtaking descriptions of both roped falls and rock climbs in the highlands of California. On the other hand, it attempts to communicate to outsiders the allure and motivation to climb and fall and take the inherent risks involved in rock climbing. Todhunter achieves this through crystalline anecdotes about his own climbing and diving pursuits and the life-changing experience of becoming a father. The accounts of experiences with Dan Osman are entertaining.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
when i read the book, though it was clear enough in one sense that dan osman's drive toward perfection in climbing skill and the control of fear was also some kind of an addiction of the kind that will destroy you if you can't break its hold, todhunter's prose and osman's character--at least when climbing--made you feel that if anything happened to him it would be down in the flat world of pick-up trucks and parking tickets. i do not climb, and knew the man only through todhunter's words. but because of the book, when i learned of his death, i was hit by a sense of almost personal loss--and the shock of disbelief. how could it happen to him! he was so disciplined a climber. he knew the phantom lord so well. may angels and ministers of grace attend him. and look after his daughter emma
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Sadly, I received the book as a gift from my son after Dan passed away. My son is the Jason mentioned. Until I read Andrew's details I guess I chose not to think about what they were doing. My son along with Dan's other climbing friends are taking his death badly. Dan left a 12 year old daughter, Emma. Jason and Dan's friends held a raffle just before Christmas to try and help with Emma's upcoming education. They plan to have another shortly.
My son's comment to me upon telling me of Dan's death was that Dan was "the expert" and he would never think of doing the free falling, or base jumping without Dan's expertise. Thank you Andrew Todhunter for your book and for enlightening me on exactly what my son has been doing. I can only pray that the deaths stop with Dan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
I had a hard time putting this book down and thought about nothing else for the few days I was reading it. Absolutely mesmerizing! As a newbie, I appreciated the intro to the lingo of the rock-climbing world. Todhunter's writing was excellent and I enjoyed the contrasting of his own life with his experiences with Dan Osman. Dano was pure inspiration to me. I was shocked when I found out he was dead. Although it is sad for his family and friends that he has died, strangely enough I don't feel sad for him because he died doing what he loved and living his life to the fullest (may we all live so fully!). I do feel sad that there is less beauty in the world now that he is gone. Read the book and you will see!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is one of my all-time favortie adventure books, and I've read many, both modern and classic. Todhunter's book is a marvelous excursion into the realm of fear and adrenaline, poignant and poetic, the inside story on what is otherwise external in nature, i.e. risking your life for mysterious reasons. Anyone who has ever taken seemingly foolish risks should rush out and get this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Fall of the Phantom Lord is as real as any book I've read. Reading it, even this non-climber could practically feel his face pressed up against the face of the rock. Todhunter gets up close and personal on the subject of risk. He sees the lure of high risk climbing as a cross between a noble challenge and a dangerous personal addiction, especially for climbers with loved ones waiting at the foot of the mountain. He makes you wonder, as he puts it,"at what point do statatistically hazardous, entirely elective pastimes become unethical? To what degree do we owe our self-preservation to those whom we profess to love.And if we do hold back, do we then betray ourselves?" Grown-up questions all, with no easy answers.
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