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Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 7, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At nearly 700 pages, Wade Davis's "Into the Silence" has the room to explore far more than the 1924 expedition to climb Mount Everest that resulted in the death of George Mallory (and of Sandy Irvine, his climbing partner on the fatal day). Instead, the book examines in considerable detail the world outside of the great mountain, both the world of Tibetan buddhist mysticism (Wade Davis's background as an anthropologist is evident) and the scarcely less exotic world of British middle class public schools in the early Twentieth century and the experience of soldiers in the horrors of World War One.

Along the way, Davis delves into the biographies of not just George Mallory, but those of the other leading figures of British mountaineering of the era. Almost all of them had been shaped by their war experiences (Mallory himself had been an artillery officer on the Western Front), and in many ways the quest to climb Everest was an effort to recreate the sense of glory and heroism that had vanished in the mud of Flanders.

And Davis lays out in great detail not only the fatal 1924 Everest expedition, but also the early expeditions of 1921 and 1922 (in which Mallory participated) to explore the approaches to the great mountain and to climb it if feasible (climbing attempts in both years came to nothing, laying the groundwork for the 1924 effort).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 28, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Into the Silence" isn't just a good book. It is a great book, meticulously researched, and is a primer on the hazards of mountain climbing, the impact on Britain of World War I, and the messy aftermath of a climbing expedition gone wrong.

This book is about many things, as I previewed in my opening statement. It is first about climbers of the 19th century, and their motivations for wanting to climb Mt. Everest, the highest mountain that is seen to be unconquerable. Enter 37 year old George Leigh Mallory, arguably Britain's best mountain climber; and Sandy Irvine, a young mountaineer brimming with ideas if not with experience. Years of planning and plotting by Mallory to climb Everest-as an way to escape the PTSD caused by WWI, and also as a way to maintain faith and moral in Britain. The tale of Mallory and Irvine climbing Mt. Everest does not have a happy end. Whether they reached Everest or not before they perished was not answered. What happened to them becomes a mystery until their remains are discovered in 1999.

The book, that hovers around 700 pages, is an easy read but a long one. At times, it is boring, and filled with some unnecessary detail-however ultimately it is an exciting read. Some of the characters I had to refer back to the initial page they were discussed on because so many characters are mentioned.

For those of you that are Davis fans, I read a previous book by Davis entitled "The Serpent and the Rainbow," and for those of you expecting another work like that this is in a very different leaque. Davis has a wide range of topics he likes to write about which I think is healthy for any author.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 24, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have read a lot of narratives of modern climbs of Mount Everest, and I knew of Mallory's death in the 1920s, but that's all I knew. This book is massive, as befits the subject of Everest, and in fact, it covers a lot more than just Mallory's last, fatal climb.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the whole book is the description of World War 1 (the Great War) which takes up the first 30 or so pages of the book and which recurs again throughout the narrative. The scale on which young men went to senseless deaths has never been more vividly portrayed, and the point seems to be that those who, somehow, survived this carnage had a different view of life and death than we can grasp today.

Davis's research is unbelievably detailed, and it is also somewhat stunning to consider the quantity of written materials that men left behind in the 1920s. One wonders whether future historians will be able to access the minutiae of our daily lives, now so plenteous in electronic form, but perhaps much more evanescent than letters home, sent by courier from the Himalaya. Is it possible that the 21st century will be the largest gap in history since the invention of writing?

As far as the story of the three attempts made by Mallory and others to "conquer" Everest, it is covered in exhaustive detail. And it is no fault of the writer, but the story is ultimately unsatisfying, because the climax of the whole thing is invisible, undocumented, and unsolved. Some believe that perhaps Mallory and Irvine actually reached the top of the mountain and died on their descent, but Davis does not lend any credence to this theory. But after hundreds of pages in which every step by every member of the expedition is told from multiple points of view, to get to the final chapter and have it all lost in the clouds is a let-down. It can't be helped, of course. But as a narrative, it is not really successful.

Davis is attempting not only to tell a good story, but also to simply record for history what happened. These two goals are not necessarily in complete harmony. As story-telling, the book could be much shorter and be better for it. But as historical record, it should of course be as complete as possible.

the version that I read, a pre-publication edition, had no photographs or maps (or index), and all 3 would have helped. In particular, the lack of maps was troubling, since Davis goes into great detail about routes and approaches, but it's too much to picture. I assume that the final version will be equipped with maps and photos. As others have mentioned, the annotated bibliography is a tour de force in itself, and could keep an interested reader or historian busy for decades!

Even as an armchair traveler, I found much to enjoy and the book kept me reading to the last page. But not everyone will be so interested. Still, I would recommend the portions describing the Great War to be read by anyone who harbors any belief that wars are noble expressions of patriotism or who wants the generals to be given the power to make decisions about war.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The sub-title to this tome is The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, all three complex subjects that could be described in separate volumes but that Davis has combined a 580 page story that reads like a fantastic yarn of British school-boy adventures.
We are treated to a history of England's elite young men, the poets and dreamers of the public-school variety as they interact in Britain's schools, until they are called up and led away to the slaughter of World War I; the best and brightest left dead and dying in the mud of the battlefields in France and Germany defending their hearth and home. The great detail that Davis delves into on the dreadful spectacle of battle in the trenches shoes his aptitude for history, a s does the fact finding he went to in procuring the intricate backgrounds of the climbers that where sent on the mission to be the first to conquer Everest.
In 1921 this elite group of men joined forces in India and trekked through the country, sometimes on foot, horse or yak and led a British unit of climbers assembled on a mission not just to climb Everest but to explore, chart the geography of unknown regions of the world and to explore and bring back samples of fauna and flora from the entire region on behalf of the Royal Geographic Society.
As we read we ravel with this noble group as they discover and describe the complications of a trek of this nature and learn the pitfalls that will befall this and any subsequent mission. Mallory the lead climber, who ultimately perishes upon the slopes of the grand giant of a mountain he helps popularize for the world, is a complex character unto himself and thanks be to all the historical notes and letters he and his fellow climbers on the expedition wrote we can find out now all the intrepid adventures and people they discovered on the way to the world's greatest adventure.
A fine story told in a masterfully readable way Into the Silence shows how the British where the backbone of the world during the time of the Empire.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 17, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Into the Silence is an insightful chronicle of the early British expeditions to Mount Everest, climaxing in the fated and famed 1924 expedition in which George Mallory and Sandy Irvine met their death near the summit of the fabled mountain. It begins in the trenches of the Great War, chronicling the unimaginable horror that met British soldiers as they were slaughtered by the thousands at the hands of German artillery and machine guns. The war experience was not glorious, but instead horrifying and life altering, exposing soldiers to wanton death and destruction mere hours from their home shores but seemingly continents away from the perceptions back home (or even from the perceptions of commanding generals). Returning soldiers, those who made it home, were often irreversibly changed, and it is this change, along with the horrors many had faced, that sets the stage for the quest for Everest. The British colonial illusions and national psyche were altered in a decisive way by the first world war, in a way that makes the push for Everest both a quest for meaning in a seemingly meaningless quest and also a dying convulsion of colonial imperialism in the far-flung Raj. "In reality, the war left the nation bitterly divided, spiritually exhausted, and financially ruined . . . 'We have been moved already beyond endurance, and need rest'" (198-99; the latter half of the quote is a quotation from Mallory's friend John Maynard Keynes). It was almost as if the country needed a new quest in which to be caught up, something new to catch their imagination.

Davis does a great job of chronicling the formative experiences of a number of key players in the years leading up to the Everest treks, and he allows their myriad motivations and aspirations to drive them toward the mountain. It is this element of the book that really gives it life, and take it beyond a simple historical chronicle of logistics, altitudes, and accomplishments, or even a mere adventure story, and into the hearts and minds of the Mallory and the other key figures in the push for the summit of the world.

The expanse of the narrative is truly epic, as it follows a group of men who literally trek off of the map into the harsh and uncharted wilds of the high Tibetan and Nepalese plateaus and mountains of the great Himalayas. Each of the three Everest journeys is followed in detail, with its challenges, discoveries, tragedies, and triumphs. Striking throughout the narrative is the almost casual approach to the mountain that pervades the first two approaches to the mountain, and even persists into the final push in 1924, in the selection of men who were not either young or fit enough for the rigors ahead, the lack of the necessary cold weather gear, and the stubborn refusal by most to even consider the merits of oxygen (or of down coats, introduced to the expedition by oxygen-advocate and climber George Finch on the 1922 attempt), though Mallory seems to have come around to the merits of the supplemental air as critical to any hope of success.

There is much to commend this wonderful book. It contains a great story of human endeavor in the pursuit of what is still considered a gargantuan feat (though countless deaths in the years since testify both to the harshness of the mountain and to attitudes that can sometimes become too casual with regard to the risks inherent in the attempt). The narrative is warm with personal detail, and captures and conveys a rich portrayal of British culture in the period between the wars, still replete with imperialist ideals and the flickering shadows of waning humanist optimism. It also serves as a vivid portrayal of the human cost of the British victory in WWI. It includes a number of maps, which decorate the endsheets, and which prove essential as you follow the various treks through the Himalaya. It also has a wonderful sixteen-page gallery of photos from the expeditions that help the reader envision the people and landscapes, though I was disappointed by the very curious and seemingly random arrangement of the photos, with pictures intermixed from the three expeditions, making it hard to find people or events without simply paging through the gallery.

The gallery arrangement isn't the only weakness, however. I greatly enjoyed the book, but found it too long. Especially in the first half of the book, detailing the run-up to Everest and the first exploratory expedition, I thought there was too much laborious detail. We are treated to a mini-biography of nearly every person we encounter, most of which include a review of the horrors of the WWI battlefields and each character's involvement therein. We also learn about every contour of the trail on the whole months-long march toward Everest in 1921, a journey that is essential to the story but should have been shortened. But once the 1922 expedition gets underway, the writing seems to streamline and the action begins to take over, leaving the last two hundred pages of this nearly six-hundred-page journey as the page-turning adventure writing I had hoped to encounter. It was the laboriousness of the heart of the book that kept this from being a truly great book, but it is still worth reading and has much to commend it. It is thoughtful, colorful, and insightful, and will certainly prove a definitive historical account of these landmark journeys and of these early chapters in the quest for Everest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
There is little new here, particularly for devotees of The Great War and Himalayan mountaineering. WW1 and Everest's history are well-known; combining both topics is the real innovation. The war's enormous trauma for survivors has long been apparent, but Davis makes the strongest connection yet between it and the aspirations of the first generation of Everesters. They hoped, desperately, for some noble achievements to fill the void left by the world's most horrible conflict. The author documents this clearly, in thrilling prose, and reveals much about The War and mountaineering. This cannot illuminate the motivations of climbers in other times, so it does not succeed in broadly explaining a pastime often described as "crazy" by outsiders. But we understand George Mallory and the Lost Generation better, not least because the many fine thumbnail biographies and detailed anecdotes deftly recreate their lost world. The "excessive" detail is all there for a purpose beyond thoroughness. Davis properly exposes British class and colonial pretensions and lauds the heroic Sherpas and other Asian participants, though not as fully as M. Isserman & S. Weaver. (A review of their "Fallen Giants" appears below.) Overall, this enhances Davis's reputation as scholar and literary stylist.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful /5.0 out of 5 stars

Oh, The Humanity Of It!, March 14, 2009
By Chimonsho (Turtle Island) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes (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 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Wade Davis, <strong>Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest</strong> (Knopf, 2011)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

At one point, while a friend of mine and I were both reading this book, we were chatting about it on facebook. I was about 250 pages into it at the time, so it was still all about preparation and backgrounds on the characters and all that rather than actually cracking the mountain. And I STILL said, "these people are bug[censored for Amazon consumption] nuts. All of them." Well, folks, having now finished it, I'll tell you: by 250 pages in, well, they're all still relatively sane. Things only get crazier after that.

I've been a fan of Wade Davis' since, well, the same time most folks of my generation became Wade Davis fans: <em>The Serpent and the Rainbow</em>. Not the initial publication of the book, but Wes Craven's 1985 film adaptation, which of course played way fast and loose with Davis' Harvard masters' thesis, which got a pretty sizable mass-market printing to coincide with the film. At the time, it was the densest piece of nonfiction I had ever attempted to read, thick with medical, biological, and botany terminology, covered with endnotes, etc. I devoured it, and when his doctoral thesis, <em>Passage of Darkness</em>, was published in 1988, I devoured that one, too. To this day, I credit Wade Davis with my continuing interest in academic nonfiction (to the point where I still read the occasional thesis). Any time Davis pumps out a new book, it's an event. To me, anyway. And this one is so different than his normal ethnobotanical pursuits I couldn't help but be intrigued. What would Wade Davis do with straight history?

Answer: make it compulsively readable, the same way he did with ethnobotany.

As the subtitle will tell you, Davis looks at Britain's obsession with conquering Everest through the lens of World War I and the effective shattering of the British empire. The Raj were still in existence, of course, but rapidly losing hold over India, which would gain its independence soon after World War II (and before, ironically, a British mountaineer would actually make it to the top of Everest). In parallel were the lands of Nepal and Tibet, one a fair-weather ally of Britain's, with an ambassador doing everything in his power to keep it out of the hands of the Chinese (and, through them, the Russians), the other fiercely independent, with the mountain sitting dead the middle. And then there was George Mallory, a man who redefined the term obsession. Mallory would ultimately make three cracks at the mountain in the space of five years, with three different support teams, and the most fascinating part of this book, for my money, is in the politics surrounding the choosing of the members of those support teams. (An equally compelling biography of E. O. Wheeler, in particular, is just dying to be written.) It was during the first burst of these politics that I made the comment about everyone in this book being nuts, if memory serves.

Then they actually start trying to climb the damn mountain, and I'll let you read this for yourselves. You want to; it's a fine, fine book, as is every book Davis writes. Utterly fascinating. Made my 25 Best Reads of the Year list easily. ****
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 15, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Into the Silence" is about the process of Mt. Everest becoming a "distraction from the reality of the times" and a nation embracing "a climbing expedition that would become the ultimate gesture of imperial redemption."

This is a terrific--and terrifically detailed--book about the first three attempts to climb Everest and the indefatigable and odd assortment of people behind them. But be forewarned that the mountain doesn't make an actual appearance in the telling of this conquest until page 236 of this 580-page epic.
Wade Davis spends a lot of time re-setting the importance of the year 1921. The first sections dive deep into the battlefield trenches in Europe as individuals emerge who will play a role in the Everest assaults. A nation's ability to embrace a challenge and steel itself to loss is a key theme.

The desire to climb Everest was a big PR battle to restore the nation's confidence. It was spin from Propaganda Bureau, in essence.

It takes a long time to set up the mountain climbing portion of this book. You'll either relish in the fine-grain view or find it tedious. For me, I can't imagine the second half of "Into the Silence" without the first. The climbers come into view--like the mountain itself--with that much more relief. Davis invests considerable time in their background and personalities and the reward is a tremendous payoff when we're on the mountain making our way up.

The end is the most gripping as the climbers struggle with finding a route, learn what gear works or doesn't, and confront unknown issues over oxygen, weather patterns, wind and punishing, brutal conditions. It's in the last sections where George Mallory takes center stage and we follow him up and down the mountain through all three treks and, finally, his final climb along with a thoughtful analysis of whether he reached the summit before perishing.
Fascinating story and very well told. Settle back and enjoy this one.
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