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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily Detailed Drama of the NEAR Conquest of Everest!!!! - FIVE STARS, October 10, 2011
This review is from: Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest (Hardcover)
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If you have any interest at all in understanding what it is like to attempt to conquer the tallest mountain in the world, your search has ended. This is the book for you. As you know, sometimes a book can surprise you. Expecting one thing the reader is startled to find another. This is the way it is with Wade Davis' treatment of George Mallory's three attempts to be the first person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. No worthwhile detail is spared in the writing of this book.

Davis accomplishes three major goals in writing this book, whether they were intended or not we do not know, but this is what you get out of pouring your energy into this book.

1st You will understand mountain climbing. You will learn more about the subject than you could possibly want to know. I would think that this book should be mandatory reading for anyone who is involved in this sport. The agony, the pain, the skills needed, and the sheer willpower to climb this mountain or any mountain is clearly stated, and done so in a powerful narrative that will live beyond the book. You feel the pain of the climbers, and the exhilaration of each success. When they are disappointed, so are you.

2nd You will learn more about World War I referred to at the time as the Great War than you would learn, if you read a book entirely devoted to the war. Author Wade Davis has captured the war in all its detail. From trench warfare, to Mustard gas to the futility of the decisions that were made that unnecessarily cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of English boys in the prime of their lives. No doubt is left in the readers mind that England basically lost its status as the number one military power in the world when it lost a generation of its youth - the country simply never recovered.

3rd You will understand English society, and this specific period of history from about 1924 to 1925. What it means to be part of a class and never able to leave that class? What non-acceptance is like, simply because you did not attend the right schools, or come from the correct family background. There's a reason why generations later when English bands become famous, the players like the Beatles, and others choose to live overseas and not in their native England. It's not just taxation. It's about leaving behind class structure, and freedom. John Lennon to his death always referred to himself as working class.

The BASIS of INTO THE SILENCE

From the 1800's into our present era, mankind has been climbing mountains. As an example the Swiss Alpine Club was founded in 1863. Most climbing occurred in European during attempts to climb European mountains. The real quest occurred beginning in the 1900's with the desire to attempt to climb the Himalayan Mountains many of which were 10,000 to 15,000 feet higher and much more difficult to climb than mountains in Europe. Mount Everest at the summit reaches a height of 29,035.

ORGANIZATION of INTO THE SILENCE

There are 13 chapters in this 576 page narrative, and there are many players. The star however is George Mallory born in 1886, he would go on to take part in three separate expeditions to Mount Everest beginning in the early 1920's. More on Mallory later.

What the author does so successfully is bring each participant in the Everest expeditions into the book in different sections and then spends pages going through the individual biographies. A very large part of each person's background is their experiences in World War I. No horrific detail of battles fought is spared in an attempt to have the reader fully understand what that war was like, and how it affected each soldier for the rest of their lives, and more specifically, each mountain climber.

As a reader I began to understand the Great War and fill in the gaps in my knowledge. The book captured a reality that could never be portrayed in the movies because no one would sit still and watch the reality. These men were formed by their experiences in the war, and it is clear how badly scarred they were by these experiences. Essentially England never recovered and would lose its standing in the world. World War II would simply finish them as a world power in spite of the fact that they were the victors.

THE STORY

George Mallory's three attempts to conquer Mount Everest is what this book is all about. History records that each of Mallory's attempts failed. There is drama in this book. There is action, and pain, and fear, and always HOPE. It is the hope of conquering a goal accompanied by unbelievable hardship in the attempt to realize the goal, which is standing on the summit of the tallest mountain in the world, even if only for a moment.

There is always the element of LUCK. Think about it, one moment you are within a 1000 feet of the summit, looking out 100 miles at unlimited mountains in one direction. The temperature is a pleasant 30 degrees - no wind. An hour later, a storm is coming in from the other direction. Temperatures drop 40 degrees in that hour. The wind goes to 60 miles an hour. You can't stand, you are fighting for your life. Whether you live or die is up to forces you do not control. In the end, the elements can break you, no matter how strong your body is how strong willed you are.

Perhaps you are that strong in both your mind and your body, but one of your companions breaks down. What do you do? Climb to the summit alone and succeeding because you left someone else to die a 1000 feet below? Do you instead abandon the summit and help your companion make it back down to camp and save his life. This is precisely what happened to George Finch in the 1922 expedition. Finch would have made the summit. He was using oxygen and Mallory who preceded him by a day did not. George Finch was accompanied by Geoffrey Bruce, and when Bruce could not go on, Finch made the decision to save Bruce's life rather than go on to fame and fortune. He chose honor.

There is one point in the book when Mallory and two other companions are on a shelf within ten feet of the edge and they must stay the night. They are inside a tent which has a base to the tent. There is an intense storm through the night. Winds are gusting at 70 and 80 miles per hour. They feel the wind at one point begin to pick up the base of the tent, and there is nothing they can do but continue to place their full body weight on that base. Just a little more wind and they would be swept over the side into an abyss that would last for 1000's of feet. Every step on Everest whether thought about or blindly taken can lead to death. That is what this book is all about. You are putting your life on the line for 29,000 feet both up and down the mountain.

Into the Silence is an incredible adventure story for all of us, and readers of all ages. In the end Mallory does not conquer the mountain. England mourns its hero and the hero's death that he embodied. Those that lived while Mallory died do not know how Mallory died. They only know that he died attempting to conquer the summit. They did not know if he made it to the very top or not along with his companion, Sandy Irvine, because they both disappeared high on the North East Ridge. They were sighted less than 1000 feet from the summit before the end.
It took another almost 75 years to begin to unravel the story and learn the truth or as much of the truth as can be learned. An expedition was sponsored to try to find Mallory's remains and with the remains the story of the end. This was 1999. I will not go into that expedition, but they were successful in finding the remains, and most of the mystery. Some still believe Mallory made it to the top, and others have their doubts.

It took 30 additional years after Mallory's last steps before another Brit named Edmund Hillary placed his feet on top of the summit. With him was Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. When asked while on a lecture circuit why are you trying to climb Everest, Mallory responded with the classic, "Because it's there." The real answer is so much more complicated than that and will have you at the edge of your seat for 500 pages. You will not want this book to end, and you will walk away from it, so much richer for the experience. Thank you for reading this review.

Richard Stoyeck
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 15, 2011 7:47:08 AM PDT
Boston says:
this is an excellent review ! Thanks for sharing

Posted on Oct 25, 2011 6:58:54 AM PDT
Personally I believe Mallory did reach the summit; to be that close and not reach it is far less believable. Also I believe out of Norgay and Hillary, Norgay set foot on the summit before Hillary but Hillary, who I feel is more than a bit of an egotist, claimed the fame.

Posted on Nov 5, 2011 3:53:08 PM PDT
Hillary was a British subject, but a New Zealander, to be precise.

Posted on Nov 28, 2011 1:57:57 PM PST
Wonderful, thorough review!

Posted on Jan 30, 2012 8:35:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 6, 2012 5:27:06 PM PST
C. Thwaites says:
Whatever this book is about, it's not about class. Or the Beatles. Nor was Hillary a Brit

Posted on Apr 28, 2012 5:48:09 PM PDT
gilly8 says:
To the last commenter: in a way it touches on the Beatles, in the sense of its' pointing up the rigid British class or "Caste" system....proper accent, proper schools, good background...was almost everything. In this regard, the British climbers looked down on Australian or other non-British climbers in these expeditions. Not a major issue, but it did come up....and the native Sherpas were, of course, less than human to many of the British/European climbers of that time, w/ some major exceptions (eg Mallory himself).

When Hillary conquered Everest in the early '50's, HE got the credit; only later was his Sherpa guide and the man who climbed with him, Tenzing Norgay, given credit and named as well.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2012 5:56:32 PM PST
I remember at the time the successful ascent was announced both climbers were named, though Tensing Norgay was called Sherpa Tenzing. It was generally understood they got there together and who actually put his foot there was immaterial. For many years, Hillary put this line and refused to say who put his foot there first. Only near the end of his life did he say it was him, but he still said it did not matter.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012 9:06:51 AM PST
Ms. Lowe,
I recall this story also, and I think you are recalling it accurately. Perhaps it does not matter whose foot was first. In the end, it was between the climbers. At the same time history will give the credit to Hillary. Thanks again.

Richard Stoyeck

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2014 6:45:46 AM PST
No, He didn't . People tried using his equipment and clothing and failed. Matter of fact , it would involved going Up and down that Is the hard part of the climbing. He failed , didn't come down, that is the end.
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