24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Good beach reading.,
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This review is from: The Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2 (Hardcover)
Full disclosure: Oliver Eaton Cromwell is my grandfather. I grew up in Europe in the 60's spending winters with him in Zermatt, and as a young officer commanding a border camp spent quite a bit of time with him in the 70's and early 80's when he moved to Interlaken before he and Georgia's death in the mid-80's. He willed me his personal notes and book collection.
The strength of the work is its focus on Wolfe and the author does a very nice job. She presents some interesting information re: Weissner as well. Before reading "Last Man on the Mountain", you would be well served if you read "K2: the 1939 Tragedy" by Kaufman and Putnam. Even if you don't this is still good light reading.
The author has some clear biases and gaps in her knowledge that come thru very clearly. She does a very nice job of helping the reader understand the relative value of the dollar in 1939 compared to today. To today's reader, $1,600 does not sound like much, but $45,000 is a different matter altogether. She does not appear to have the same grasp of some other aspects of 1939.
She (or the publicist) writes "In 1939 the Savage Mountain claimed its first victim" which is a bit ethnocentric. In fact four people died, one of which was Wolfe, the other three were Sherpa's, who died heroically trying to bring Wolfe down, for which role they were not trained, equipped or being paid to do. While there is plenty of blame to go around, Wolfe's death needs to be laid at Weissner's feet.
While she refers to Tony Cromwell as a "prima donna" she provides no source for this observation. As Kaufman noted, Cromwell - at least in terms of quantity (Weissner was undoubtedly more skilled) - had more experience than anyone except Weissner -there's at least one mountain named after him (Mt. Cromwell) in Canada. Cromwell was also mature (47) and well-educated and again, as Kaufman notes, discussed with Weissner his (Cromwell's) concern about prolonged exposure to high altitude for human health and performance - which is why Cromwell made it clear from the very beginning that he would be glad to join the K2 expedition - help lead the effort - and help fund the effort - but that he was not interested in going any higher than the base camp. 47, with decades of experience, Cromwell had a better perspective on maintaining health than the younger men - who had the approach that they would simply "gut thru" any discomfort - which is fine for an afternoon's climb but not so practical for weeks on end. Cromwell's personal observations re: prolonged exposure to high altitudes was not widely accepted until much later - and Weissner and the younger member simply paid it no attention. As Kaufman notes, Weissner subscribed to the opposite theory that remaining at extremely high altitudes allowed the human body to gradually adjust - something we now know to be untrue - with significant impact on the expedition.
The author's comments re: the Counsel's "xenophobic" observation that Weissner's characteristic central European "bluntness" did not wear well with the American's is undeserved. That characteristic has softened a bit since WWII, but it's still a valid observation - and is especially true for central and east Europeans. It's quite possible for an eastern German to completely offend an American/Englishman without realizing that his form of address is the culprit. Kaufman "K2: the 1939 Tragedy" does a much better job of exploring the impact of the different cultures- western and Sherpa - on the actions that ultimately doomed the 1939 expedition.
Cromwell was a seasoned, experienced, mature mountaineer, who found that Weissner`s unwillingness to accept any team input other than money and physical labor (ie. Weissner refused to even appear to consider ANY advice Cromwell tried to give him, be it mountaineering, or the best approaches for leading Americans, and then tried to order him up K2 after promising him that he would ONLY be the base camp commander - health concerns be damned) - put the expedition at risk, with tragic consequences. As both authors note: the American's essentially mentally "checked out" with regard to Weissner - they were perfectly happy as long as he was anywhere but where they were.
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Initial post: Feb 23, 2011 12:16:28 PM PST
Thank you so much for sharing your unique viewpoint as a direct descendant of one of the key individuals in the story. Although I enjoyed the book and found it very well written, I share your opinion that the author seemed to be a bit biased toward almost making Dudley Wolfe a martyr to the cause of the expedition. Although I completely believe the portrayal of him as a generous and courageous man, there were just too many conflicting versions of the events that lead to his death, to make any one individual the scapegoat.
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