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39 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Identity Theft in a Fairy Tale Setting, December 30, 2009
This review is from: Paths of Glory (Mass Market Paperback)
Is this a new trend? A recent blockbuster film--"Sherlock Holmes"--in which Holmes is not the prissy gentleman detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but a slovenly 1960's hippy, and Dr Watson is no longer a bumbling senior citizen, but a very dapper younger man. The two trade snarky insults with all the fervor of a friendship that cannot say its name.

But at least Sherlock Holmes was fictional! Now along comes Jeffery Archer and recreates a revered historical figure, George Mallory of Everest, that also bares no resemblance to the personality and career of the actual figure. This artistic license might work if he had painted an interesting portrait of this complicated man and his tragic drive to conquer the world's highest peak, but the portrait that results is a complete soap opera rewrite. His detailed descriptions of Mallory's teammates, their camp site palaver, even the geography of the mountain, will make anyone cringe who has even a passing acquaintance with this famous saga.

Mallory was an earnest Boy Scout riding the social coattails of his Alpine and literary acquaintances. He was too personally disorganized ever to be a leader of men, nor did he have the interpersonal toughness for the job. The Alpinists respected him for his astonishingly skill at rock and mountain climbing; the literati adored his physique and fey demeanor. And he was a good guy. Yet Archer has Mallory boldly taking over the Royal Geographic Society's Everest Committee selection process with the commanding forcefulness of a Sergeant Major--qualities he wholly lacked--and boldly leading two Everest expeditions once on the mountain (he was on three). It is true that Mallory was appointed "climbing leader" in 1924, but that position was a mere pat on the back and tightly supervised by Colonel Norton, who was a true leader of men.

While he has Mallory issuing ultimatums to the august governing board left and right, Archer completely leaves out one of Mallory's greatest achievements-- discovering the primary route to the top from the Tibetan side and then being the first human to set foot on Everest's mighty flanks. This first expedition to Mt. Everest--the Reconnaissance Expedition of 1921--is not on Archer's path to glory. This was when Mallory and Guy Bullock almost circumnavigated Everest seeking the best approach to its steep slopes. After five months of the most arduous exploration, Mallory and Bullock finally discovered the hidden eastern side of the North Col at the head of the East Rongbuk Glacier. And it was at the beginning of this expedition, when absolutely nothing was known about the mountain's geography, that Mallory wrote to his wife that "we are about to walk off the map." Of course that phrase is far too evocative to leave out, so Archer merely lifts it to plug into another made-up expedition.

Archer is so enamored with the politically correct Tibetan name for Mt. Everest--"Chomolungma"--that he stuffs it into all the climbers' mouths. But the term was never used by them, and first appeared on Wheeler's 1925 map entitled "Mount Everest and the Chomo-lungma Group." His tin ear is on loudest display when he repeatedly has the taciturn Noel Odell call leader Mallory "skipper."

Probably the most egregious display of political correctness (Does that help sell books nowadays?) is Archer's assertion that his Mallory had actually planned to select as his summit partner not one of the proven RGS climbers, but one of their Sherpa porters with amazing natural climbing abilities! This decision taken when even Australian RGS member George Finch was denied a place on the expedition because he was not English enough. Of course the historical realities were that while Sherpas are genetically endowed with the ability to work hard at high altitude, none of them had climbed mountains before the arrival of the English explorers and their "English air" (oxygen), and they were later taught the skill as ever more expeditions required their services.

The final description of the Mallory and Irvine's climb into history lacks even the faintest patina of reality. They leave their high camp (given as at 27,300-ft--it was actually at 26,800ft) at 5AM carrying eight hours of oxygen. 10-1/2 hours later, they are still breathing the precious gas with presumably some still remaining for their descent. The description of the summit pyramid--available in scores of Everest chronicles, is also a hash. There is no knife-edged ridge after the Second Step, and there is no "vertical rock covered with ice that never melts from year to year" with "112-ft left to climb." And, of course, both men make it to the top before perishing on the descent.

What is the point of this? It is called a novel, but uses actual names, places, and events all twisted into a Disneyesque cartoon. There is no other suggestion that this entire tale is desperately false. To further the deception, Archer prominently credits Audrey Salkeld, a real Everest historian, with "special thanks." Oh how Mrs. Salkeld must feel used!

Finally, a prominent blurb on the jacket of "Paths of Glory" reads "`A storyteller in the class of Alexander Dumas'--The Washington Post." A Google search and a search of the Washington Post's archives could find no such quotation.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 27, 2010 11:18:50 PM PDT
Dr Watson was not written as a "bumbling senior citizen". Perhaps you are confusing the written character with Nigel Bruce's portrayal of Watson in the 1930's and 40's.

Posted on Mar 28, 2010 6:30:58 AM PDT
Daniel Masse says:
200 % agree with your review (see comments I made to other reviews). This is completely fictional novel, and Archer should have said so.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 11:29:31 AM PDT
Tholzel says:
John Sloan--
You are correct. My mother is the Sherlock Holmes fanatic. I should have checked with her.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2010 7:54:43 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 25, 2010 7:55:23 PM PDT]

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 8:31:12 AM PST
Post shows great knowledge of Everest, but confuses non-fiction and historical fiction. It is always a fine line for an author - but I think well balanced by Jeffrey Archer. At no time did I think this was portrayed as the truth; but it was pretty entertaining.

Posted on Jan 5, 2011 8:50:36 AM PST
Anja says:
THANK YOU sooo much for this fantastic review!!! Finally someone who is a bit more critical and doesn't place Archer on a pedestal. I have nothing against fiction and this book could have been an interesting read. But this book - definitely NO! He doesn't even get the biographies right at the end of the book. What a shame! And what on earth did he do to George Finch's character? He turned him into a man obsessed with women and sex! What the ...? What about all those awe-inspiring, heart warming stories and characters of the real expedition members? No mention of that. In an interview Archer claimed to have interviewed some of the expedition members' decendents. I can't and I won't believe that they gave him such flat and superficial descriptions of their ancestors. He must have gotten so much valuable information. But what did he do with it? This book was a huge disappointment and not worth the money.
So, thank you again for this superb review! By the way, are you "the" Tom Holzel with the book about Mallory? If yes, thank you also for this splendid book and all these interesting (behind the scenes/RGS/AC) stories. Must have taken you a great amount of time and nerves to collect and read all the books, letters, diaries etc to get the information.

Greetings from Germany!
Anja

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2011 2:33:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2011 2:33:34 PM PDT
Tholzel says:
Tag, Anja. Yes, that's me! Und als deutsch-geborener Ami, kann ich noch ein bischen deutsch quatschen.

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2011 8:47:19 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 22, 2011 8:48:40 PM PDT]

Posted on Sep 12, 2011 9:39:59 AM PDT
dudesimon says:
Good and necessary review. But I think perhaps you underestimate the abilities and contributions of sherpas.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 12, 2011 10:21:28 AM PDT
Tholzel says:
Today, yes, they are invaluable and far better adapted to climbing and carrying at altitude than Westerners. But back in the 1920's they had no climbing skills wahtsoever and thought the English were crazy for wanted to slog up such a cold, inhospitable place. But they did it for the money. None of them climbed as high as the early British.
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