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Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes Paperback – February 23, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This survey history establishes base camp for readers interested in the history of Himalayan climbing expeditions. Its strength lies in the way it puts each undertaking within the context of evolving styles of high-altitude mountaineering. It has the additional attribute of pithily capturing the driven, not to say sometimes nutty, personalities attracted to an extremely perilous sport. Written by professional historians with an alpine avocation, the narrative opens with nineteenth-century identifications of the 8,000-meter titans of the Himalayas that became the mesmerizing goals of most expeditions. Why outfits picked K2, Annapurna, or Kangchenjunga are stories in themselves, in which Isserman and Weaver insightfully engage factors of organization, nationalism, and even aesthetics. The unique obsession with Mount Everest sums up Isserman and Weaver’s divisions of Himalayan mountaineering history: its name reflects the sport’s birth in empire building, its conquest in 1953 symbolized climbing’s most spectacular moment, and its littered slopes testify to climbing’s decline from because-it-is-there ineffability to contemporary commercial enterprise. Including photography of personages and majestic scenery, Isserman and Weaver’s history is well worth any library’s consideration. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

""Fallen Giants" captures the spirit of Himalayan climbing. It is wonderfully written and will become an indispensable reference."--Charles S. Houston, co-author of "K2: The Savage Mountain" -- Charles S. Houston

"In "Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes," Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver share unforgettable stories of the history of the world's highest peaks and the climbers who challenged their lofty summits. Their in-depth research gives us unique insights into previously unknown controversies, mysteries, and dramas. This thoughtful book, from a scholarly perspective, introduces us to the greatest peaks and personalities of mountaineering. The new information, intriguing details, insightful interpretations and dry humor make this a must read for armchair mountaineers as well as all who aspire to the heights."--Arlene Blum, author of "Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life"


"Fallen Giants captures the spirit of Himalayan climbing. It is wonderfully written and will become an indispensable reference."-Charles S. Houston, co-author of K2: The Savage Mountain -- Charles S. Houston

"This will be the definitive history of mountaineering in the Himalaya, clear, free of jargon, and readable, and so thorough that it will not be worth anyone''s time to repeat this effort."-Nick Clinch, leader, 1958 American Hidden Peak expedition, and past president, American Alpine Club

"This would be a great first book to expose a reader to the amazing stories and sacrifices held within the body of mountaineering literature. Additionally, the historian, scholar, and collector will delight in the unique, in-depth look at the evolution of climbing, and its driving factors, in the Himalaya."-Greg Glade, owner, Top of the World Books

"Isserman and Weaver, both unassuming wanderers of high hills, have pulled off a great first ascent: a scholarly, grippingly readable history of Himalayan mountaineering that not only captures the tenuous essence of great successes and failures, but places the accounts of these climbs into historical context."-Tom Hornbein, author of Everest: The West Ridge

"In Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver share unforgettable stories of the history of the world's highest peaks and the climbers who challenged their lofty summits. Their in-depth research gives us unique insights into previously unknown controversies, mysteries, and dramas. This thoughtful book, from a scholarly perspective, introduces us to the greatest peaks and personalities of mountaineering. The new information, intriguing details, insightful interpretations and dry humor make this a must read for armchair mountaineers as well as all who aspire to the heights."-Arlene Blum, author of Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life

"This survey history establishes base camp for readers interested in the history of Himalayan climbing expeditions. Its strength lies in the way it puts each undertaking within the context of evolving styles of high-altitude mountaineering."-Booklist

"Heroism, death, and drama abound. . . . The author''s thoroughness and range make this hefty volume nearly encyclopedic in scope; the details on the ''how'' of climbing, the no-margin-for-error experience, and the bonus of Vittorio Sella''s unmatched photographs make for a great book."-Foreward Magazine (Outstanding University Press Books 2008)

?In Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver share unforgettable stories of the history of the world's highest peaks and the climbers who challenged their lofty summits. Their in-depth research gives us unique insights into previously unknown controversies, mysteries, and dramas. This thoughtful book, from a scholarly perspective, introduces us to the greatest peaks and personalities of mountaineering. The new information, intriguing details, insightful interpretations and dry humor make this a must read for armchair mountaineers as well as all who aspire to the heights. Arlene Blum, author of Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life -- Arlene Blum

?Fallen Giants captures the spirit of Himalayan climbing. It is wonderfully written and will become an indispensable reference. Charles S. Houston, co-author of K2: The Savage Mountain -- Charles S. Houston

?This will be the definitive history of mountaineering in the Himalaya, clear, free of jargon, and readable, and so thorough that it will not be worth anyone''s time to repeat this effort."?Nick Clinch, leader, 1958 American Hidden Peak expedition, and past president, American Alpine Club -- Nick Clinch

?Isserman and Weaver, both unassuming wanderers of high hills, have pulled off a great first ascent: a scholarly, grippingly readable history of Himalayan mountaineering that not only captures the tenuous essence of great successes and failures, but places the accounts of these climbs into historical context. Tom Hornbein, author of Everest: The West Ridge -- Tom Hornbein

?This would be a great first book to expose a reader to the amazing stories and sacrifices held within the body of mountaineering literature. Additionally, the historian, scholar, and collector will delight in the unique, in-depth look at the evolution of climbing, and its driving factors, in the Himalaya. Greg Glade, owner, Top of the World Books -- Greg Glade

"This book fills a void in the history of mountaineering, and it will appeal not only to climbers but also historians. The authors have done a prodigious amount of research."-John T. Reilly, Mount Saint Mary College -- John T. Reilly

"Fallen Giants is the book of a lifetime . . . an awe-inspiring work of history and storytelling. . . . Armchair mountaineers will give the book pride of place in their collections." -- Bruce Barcott "New York Times Book Review" (09/15/2008)

"It''s difficult to find fault with this exceptionally well-written tome, a must-read for any fan of climbing literature."-Kathleen A. Ervin, Failure -- Kathleen A. Ervin "Failure" (11/04/2008)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300164203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300164206
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.3 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary M. Olson on November 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent history of mountain climbing in the Himalaya. Isserman and Weaver do a masterful job, not just of recounting the history, but placing the efforts in political and cultural context. There were long periods where access to these mountains was restricted or forbidden. There has also always been a competitive thread to the missions, as climbers tried for all kinds of "firsts." Of course the history is filled with both triumphs and tragedies, and the authors tell these stories in a most engaging way. I have only two small nits with the book. First, it ends in the mid 90s, even though the book was published this year. And second, while there are lots of photos and maps, I wish there were more of the latter, as I kept looking for the mountains, glaciers, towns, and other geographical entities. But these aside, this is an altogether wonderful book.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm about 150 pages into this book. It's been excellent so far but sadly lacking in one area - a good map of the Himalaya, from K2 in the west to Kangchenjunga in the east - and the many towns and villages mentioned in the book. It would have been ideal for the authors to include one on the endpapers. Then the reader could quickly flip there for reference. There are smaller maps throughout but many of them frustratingly do not include many of the place names mentioned. I have ordered the only map I could find - by Nelles Verlag - and will pick up the book again when it arrives. I actually bought it for a gift, so I'll be including the map with the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Finally, a truly substantive history of Himalayan climbing. Among many fine narratives of the world's tallest peaks, "Fallen Giants" goes farthest in locating mountaineering in proper sociopolitical context, though British expeditions get more coverage. Treatment of the Sherpas, in particular, takes full account of their improved status from colonized porters to equal expedition partners. (Cf. S. Ortner, "Life & Death on Mt Everest.") In an overdue tribute to their unmatched contributions, heroes like Ang Tharkay and especially Tenzing Norgay receive their due, along with many others who left thinner paper trails. There's more analysis than in other mountain classics, which may bother some rock jocks, but the politics of expeditions matter, especially back when Europe ruled much of the world. But this is no mere radical tract: the humanity of all participants is the main focus. The authors deplore the sensationalism and commercialism of recent decades, seeing a decline from an earlier if not exactly golden age. The 1953 attempt on K2 is a fine centerpiece to the whole. The monumental compassion of that team, who abandoned their chance to summit K2 in a futile attempt to save stricken Art Gilkey, still inspires people in all fields of endeavor. Pete Schoening's remarkable belay which rescued 6 men from a 10,000-foot fall---arguably mountaineering's most dramatic moment---is eclipsed by the awesome possibility that Gilkey sacrificed himself to save those trying to save him. Truly an epic of humanism, one of many shared here.
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This is the ultimate book for a mountaineering junkie. Fair, comprehensive and enormously entertaining. In lieu of a guide to all the photos and maps, however, I made up my own and used it as a bookmark. I couldn't have sustained interest without being able to refer to it often. Other than that, it was an excellent book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book more than any climbing book I've read in many years. It is superbly written and meticulously researched and annotated. As I approached this book, I felt its size and heft, looked at the text and saw the smallish font and the amount of print on each page, and I thought, oops, this might be a tough slog.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I'd been in a spate of reading thriller novels and this book was more un-put-down-able than nearly every one of those novels. This book was a page-turner throughout and only indulged in tiny doses of navel gazing, when called for by the individuals being described. This is the story of mountaineering in the Himalaya from the earliest historical accounts to the 2000s, told like a fireside tale. Gripping and full of life.

It would help to have some knowledge of the climbing history and the terrain covered to get the most out of this book; but it really does provide plenty of detail. As with any NF book that moves across the land in its story, it's a good idea to have an atlas or maps handy if you need to orient yourself.

The emphasis is on the fourteen 8000-meter peaks, their first ascents, and other of the very highest peaks in the range. This is understandable, since these were, for nearly the entire history of Himalayan climbing, the greatest challenges: Just getting to the top of the greatest peaks. They were the lodestones of almost all climbers until the 1960s. Therefore, many of the smaller, more technical peaks are not covered (though some of the most famous and earliest are.) The book also focuses on other firsts, such as first ascents by climbers of various nationalities and by women.
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