From Publishers Weekly
Mountains haven't always been viewed as magnificent tests of bravery or even as scenic vacation spots-only in the last few centuries have Westerners found them worthy of attention. As British writer Macfarlane (the London Review of Books; the Times Literary Supplement) points out, "until well into the 1700s, travelers who had to cross the Alpine passes often chose to be blindfolded," sparing themselves the terrors of the view. His point throughout this strangely compelling volume is that our attitudes toward mountains are very much a cultural product, a rich mix of theological, geological, artistic and social forces. With the development of geological science in the early 1800s, mountains, once viewed as "giant souvenirs of humanity's sinfulness," came to be seen as part of the earth's historical record. Recognized as "the great stone book" of history, mountains opened a window into "deep time," a glimpse of eternity. The thrill of vertigo, the infatuation with the unknown, the Social Darwinist challenge of the survival of the fittest, the march of British imperialism, even advances in cartography-all shaped the social imagination of mountains. As Western adventurers were increasingly lured from the Swiss Alps to the Himalayas, Macfarlane closes his study with the ill-fated Mallory expeditions to Everest, so mythic they almost defy analysis. The book itself is rather like some idiosyncratic, hand-drawn map of terra incognita. But for romantic, mountain-struck readers, Macfarlane's rich thoughts may make snow clouds clear, revealing new peaks and new wonders. B&w illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“This is the sort of book that restores confidence in the travel genre. Erudite, full of information you did not know you wanted to know, and charged with the author’s singular passion for his subject.”
—Robyn Davidson, author of Tracks
“A compelling meditation on what draws man to risk himself to be on top of empty, dangerous crags, this is an assemblage of dreamers and athletes, the bloody-minded and crazed––all those proud and ultimately helpless protagonists who take on the lofty slopes of the mountains which are Macfarlane’s fascination. He has been up there and come back down through the foothills to offer us his thoughtful and gracious elegy, telling us eloquently the secret of it all, which is that no one can ever truly conquer a mountain.”
—Benedict Allen, editor of The Faber Book of Exploration
“If you have ever wondered why people climb mountains, here is your answer. Part history, part personal observation, this is a fascinating study of our (sometimes fatal) obsession with height. A brilliant book, beautifully written.”
—Fergus Fleming, author of Ninety Degrees North
“What a vertiginously skilled writer! This is a terrific exploration, abundant with sensorial nuance, of our human obsession with stony heights. Despite its apt title and the history of ideas that it expertly narrates, Macfarlane’s book really shows how the Earth’s mountains, cloud-kissed and implacable, steadily resist and refute the successive attempts of the human mind to scale them.”
—David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous