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Showing 1-10 of 20 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on October 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a hard book to review because of the mix of good and bad. Davis spent ten years writing and a lifetime reading, the amount of research is epic, it's probably the definitive book on the first three Everest expeditions 1921-24, no small thing considering so many other books. Yet most of the book describes background and logistics with not much time on the mountain by comparison. We learn about the history of the people involved (dozens), history of Tibet, history of WWI, trips to India, trips to Tibet, trips across Tibet, trips back from Tibet. It is highly researched and often boring by its nature since so much happens that is banal. The famous 1924 expedition in which Mallory dies is well told but accounts for only about 50 of 576 pages, or less than 10% of the book. On the other hand there are parts that are really interesting, such as the WWI biographies, and Davis' central theme that the wars silent but ever present influence on the expedition ultimately decided its fate.

The annotated bibliography is equally epic, nearly 50 pages long of recommendations for further reading, it's an impressive Everest Geek-fest, probably the best bibliography of its type and worth owning for alone. I'm not sure who to recommend this book to, certainly anyone who has been to Everest, or with an interest in Himalayan climbing history. If your looking for an introduction to Mallory or a gripping mountain adventure, it may be a long hard climb.
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on July 21, 2013
I've never read a book by Wade Davis and I am very happy I read this book. Davis is a wonderful writer. His descriptions of the Great War battles involving English and Commonwealth troops convey the hell of trench warfare like more effectively than any I've ever read. Any fan of history knows how horrible the morass of the Western Front was but Davis describes the carnage so vividly and with such emotion I almost felt like he'd experienced the battles firsthand.

In addition to describing the battles, Davis provides heartbreaking descriptions of how combatants and their loved ones were damaged and diminished by slaughter. No one touched by the experience escaped unscathed.There are no sacred cows in this narrative. Davis has no misgivings that Douglas Haig and other British "leaders" of the war effort were criminally negligent in sacrificing so many young men and women to strategies that were simply outdated for the weapons and defense systems of the time. And apparently these leaders never considered that their soldiers and their country might have been better served if they'd left their comfortable palaces safely behind the lines to venture somewhere near the front to experience the fruits of their negligence and hubris firsthand.

The problem is with the chapters about the attempts at Everest. There were many people involved from many different places in England and its social strata. Davis provides detailed biographies of all of them and some of their acquaintences which is a great deal of data to consume. He is also very granular in describing the treks through Tibet and its many exotic places with names that are very strange to the casual reader. I had difficulty keeping my bearings. To me, all of this minutia detracted from the dramatic events and the superhuman efforts of Mallory and the other members of the expeditions as they struggled through brutal cold, ice and rain and debilitating altitudes to reach Mt. Everest.

However, if Mr. Davis ever decides to write histories of the battles Great Britain engaged in during The Great War I will be at the head of the line to buy his books.
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VINE VOICEon October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
unfortunately the climbing doesn't really occupy much of the book. We hear about WWI, the British, Britain as a superpower, Tibet, and the biographies of EVERY single person mentioned in the story. It's slow going at first--I felt like I was reading a high school textbook on WWI at times. After about 100-150 pages it gets better. The parts on Everest are just awesome--richly detailed, absorbing, awe-inspiring, heroic. Truly fascinating reading. This book is meticulously researched, maybe too much so. I understand that the War totally changed the history of the world and Great Britain in particular, and that without the war the expedition to Everest might not have occurred. I understand all of that, but I could've gotten by on less description. I guess I was expecting more of a "Into Thin Air" sort of book, which this is not. It's more of a history book that happens to include the expedition to Everest. However, the expedition itself is awesome--if you can get through the historical research, or happen to love history, you will love this book. It is extremely well written and authoritative.
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on March 12, 2012
Much has been said about this book already. It is indeed a well researched retelling of the first three British attempts to summit Everest, but it is also poorly constructed.

I would like to draw attention to something that has been ignored in many/most of the reviews on here. Davis is in need of a better editor. This book bogs down with repetitive information. Davis retells the same stories multiple times, or repeats facts after he has already established them. You find yourself as the reader saying "yes, you already told me this interesting fact 100 pages ago." in my mind it was easy to see how and where the book was divided up in its creation. Some of the repetition happens so close to one another that it is unlikely the author wrote it all at once. More than likely the book was written in sections (which is fine) and then assembled. But upon being assembled it was done so crudely which resulted in all the repetition.

A more egregious oversight are the maps. As a kindle user the included maps were not functional. And even if they had been they werent very good to begin with. Davis goes into extreme detail about the mapping of the area around Everest and the climbing it. But if you are not familiar with the area he may as well be describing the moon. Good maps were essential and a terrible mistake to not be included.
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on April 6, 2012
Have you ever heard of an editor? The first two pages of this book is pretty dull...the balance is great. There is an execessive amount of time spent on the British military history, and there is ZERO reason for the time spent discussing his sexual experience. How does that affect his moutaineering efforts?

With that said, I learned alot about Mallory. I didn't realize they had to approach from Tibet because Nepal was off limits. I didn't know that the British were the first to try and use Oxygen. The avalanche that killed the Sherpa's were new to me.

Overall this is a good read that just takes way too long to get going. I think they could trim the WWI stuff alot, and eliminate the school boy stuff all together. I enjoyed the Everest stuff.
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on January 17, 2012
This book is good in parts. While it is understood that Davis spent ten years on this book, it hasn't proper notes - either footnotes or end notes - rather an annotated bibliography, which is not acceptable for a book of this kind, especially as the annotated bibliography is often simply more of what was in the text with 'see [title]' with no other citation. Some assertions in the text are not mentioned in the annotated bibliography.

The book is not well organised; it wends back and forth in an episodic manner between the events leading up to the foundation of the Mount Everest Committee and the War, with long biographical or historical discursions on everything and everyone. The information is helpful to the modern reader in understanding the context of the Everest expeditions, if the modern reader has the stamina and patience to slog through all that. By the time we get to George Mallory and the first Expedition, nearly half the book has passed and we know very little about why GLM said Yes, or even how he was approached to be on the Expedition, who vetted him, and so on. If the reader is expecting that book was meant to be about Mallory, he will be disappointed.

My other criticism of it is two-fold: the author appears to dislike both the British system and GLM, whom he spares no opportunity to bash - several times over GLM's opinion of a fellow Canadian, Oliver Wheeler. This is childish and insular and not appropriate to the dignity of a history book.

It is a well-researched book, with a few gems, for those who already knew the history of the Everest Expeditions well, but it could have used some editing. For the general reader, as one reviewer has said, it will be a hard climb.
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on July 7, 2013
Let me start by saying that I didn't finish the book. If you are looking for a book that gets into every minute detail (eg. several pages of speculation about Mallory's sexual orientation) of this expedition, then this is the book for you. Granted, there is some very interesting historical information tied to this expedition; the mapping of the earth during that time, the effects of WWI on the population and climbing community, the history of TIbet. All of this was new to me and interesting, but after reading 240 pages and they still hadn't made it to the mountain, I couldn't take it anymore. Again, if your looking for details, you will probably love this book. I just bit off more than I could chew.
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on July 18, 2012
This book was an epic read, and every person who claims to have read every word (if they aren't lying) deserves a medal. Some passages were brilliant and sublime; other pages were plodding and mundane. I learned a great deal; in some cases more than I wanted to know. I agree with other reviewers who think the text could have been served by a judicious editing. Subtract fifty pages, and in my opinion, it would have been a better book.
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on June 9, 2015
excellent research. excellent writing, unfortunately the whole the tone of the book was rather lifeless, ( i know the author intended to do this so the characters could speak to you as they were so the author maintains a stoic journalistic "objectivity" as much as possible which i can appreciate ) but it didn't really make for a wonderful read but still was a pleasant read at times...the characters, however- none of which drew me- im not sure if that is the fault of the author for not drawing out their personalities more or just that these characters were in many ways a product of their times, spoiled, entitled English colonialists at the time when the world was flagged red under the banner of the British Empire but also jaded from the horrors of world war one.
it was definitely not a "powerful" or "moving" read by any stretch( as some times description on the back ) too much superfluous detail esp. about the war. also just lacked passion from the author and the characters. Mallory and his expeditions ,seemed rather soulless...as if they were just walking somnambulists toward their fate, lacking all depth of character, none of which had any spiritual inclination, nor were of any remarkable interest as far as personalities, partly due to their self absorbtion, typical im sure of the colonial superiority complex they held little if any curiosity about their surrounding environment, buddhist culture etc....., just single focused entitled colonial Englishmen out to conquer a mountain using up humans and yaks to the point of death from exhaustion among the way, and oh well.
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VINE VOICEon April 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am a Wade Davis fan. I loved The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic and One River. He has affected how I see ethnobotany and anthropology. But this prodigiously researched, 625 page tome had my eyes glazing over and contained so much information that I lost track of characters and action. It likely would have made a few books, or at least one better-edited book with scholarly articles to back it up. Or part of a series of biographies on members of the Mallory party.

The story of Mallory and the Conquest of Everest is well worth telling. So is the story of World War One. But there is too much content for one book (and I am an avid reader of often wonky detail.) For instance, he describes how Tibet hand John Morris saw a soldier at his side have his leg severed without much loss of blood during the war. The incident does not enter into any other incident in the book and while it might have been one of any incidents causing him to leave France for India, it has limited relevance to the story at hand.

The book would be improved by a schematic showing the full cast of characters, maps of the regions covered and photographs. It would be even more improved by dividing the story into separate books.

As it is, this is a good academic research source with a 48 page annotated bibliography. Alas it is likely to lose most readers who would have wanted to learn about Mallory and his expedition.
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