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Brotherhood of the Rope: The Biography of Charles Houston (Legends and Lore) Paperback – May 30, 2007

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Charles Houston, author of mountaineering classic K2: The Savage Mountain and now in his nineties, was plagued with feelings of failure even as he excelled in a number of daunting roles: medical doctor, university professor, Peace Corps director and legendary mountain climber. This novel-like biography explores the complicated man behind the myth, from his privileged upbringing through almost a century of adventure and achievement. A man of big ideas and big ambitions, Houston began experimenting in 1946 with altitude chambers, developing the first method for inoculating against hypoxia, in order to conquer Everest. Ten years later he was building, in his garage, the first "crude designs" for the artificial heart. There are fascinating asides into Houston's "bouillabaisse" of careers, including work for the U.S. Army, medical practices in Exeter and Aspen, and his reluctant stint as a Peace Corps director in India, an eventful tenure. Author and climber McDonald (I'll Call You in Kathmandu) deepens Houston's legacy by providing a view of his inner struggles with depression, revealing this larger-than-life figure in very human terms, making Houston a pleasure to spend time with; as one of hiss fellow climbers would say of Houston, years later, "his accomplishments are nothing compared the greatness of his soul."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Charles Houston is a fascinating individual. Most people are considered accomplished if they excel in one aspect of life. Houston—mountain climber, physician, peace activist, researcher, and teacher—excelled in so many areas that it is hard to believe he is not a household name. He climbed in Alaska and India and scouted an approach to Everest, but gave up serious climbing when one member of their party died during an attempt to scale K2. During World War II, he combined his medical knowledge with his climbing expertise to conduct research for the army into pilots' reactions to high altitudes. Houston was also a small-town doctor, an innovator in the making of artificial hearts, director of the newly established Peace Corps operation in India, a teacher in medical school, and an ongoing researcher. His adventurous spirit and strong personality were both assets and liabilities for most of his life as he served as an inspiration and mentor to many. Despite McDonald's somewhat wooden writing style, this biography is a wonderful introduction to a many-talented man deserving of attention. Hoover, Danise
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Legends and Lore
  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Mountaineers Books; 1st edition (May 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898869420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898869422
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Katherine Ives on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
In 1953 Charles Houston participated in what may be the most famous--and most admired--failed attempt on a mountain, when he and his fellow expedition members turned back on K2. Their decision to try to save the life of their climbing partner, Art Gilkey, by lowering him progressively down the mountain--despite the altitude, despite the storm and the danger of avalanches, despite their complete exhaustion and despite the ensuing accident that nearly killed them all--reflects a heroism whose scope may be nearly unimaginable today.
Bernadette McDonald's book, Brotherhood of the Rope, takes the premise that Houston's "entire life had prepared him for this moment [the rescue attempt], and the choice he made was the culmination of the values instilled in him by his family, his traditions, his friends and his experience." As she retells the stories of his childhood, climbing and medical practice, she builds up, layer by layer, the rich experiences of what created the potential for Houston's selfless courage. Despite her clear admiration for her subject, the end result is not a hagiography, but a humorous, lyrical and compassionate record of a climber, a time and a genuine human being.
In the process McDonald does a great service to the climbing world, to historians and to the larger public by preserving the memory of an era and its values that go against today's talk-show-style focus on "personal journeys"--on summits and self-fulfillment at all costs--and by reminding us that the greatest accomplishments take place within the web of connections and responsibilities that form our human community.
Her book is also a great read.
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Format: Paperback
Charles Houston is best known for his failed attempts to summit K2 in 1938 and again in 1953. The latter climb involved a dramatic rescue attempt of climber Art Gilkey and featured probably the most famous belay in history when Pete Schoening single-handedly kept the entire team from sliding off the mountain. Climbing was an important part of Houston's life and McDonald's biography of him does an excellent job covering his career. Beginning with his discovery of the French Alps and the confidence climbing gave him in his awkward teenage years and continuing to his Alaskan and Himalayan expeditions, Houston's mountaineering life makes for great outdoor reading.

But what makes this biography so enthralling is the attention it devotes to the rest of Houston's life, in particular his medical career. Houston was a pioneer in high altitude medicine working first for the Navy and then later with the High Altitude Physiology Study (HAPS) on Mt. Logan in Canada. In between, he had organized the Peace Corps in India, founded the doctors unit of the Peace Corps, researched artificial hearts, taught at universities, and was one of the founders of group medical practices in the United States. In all it was an outstanding career and one that deserves recognition far beyond what he has received for his climbing adventures.

But Houston's life also saw many setbacks. Ever an idealist and a visionary, he could be difficult to work with. He certainly never mastered the political skills needed to be successful in Washington. Indeed, towards the end of his remarkable career, a college friend suggested he make a graduation speech. His perseverance in the face of a lifetime of failures, a friend suggested, would make a good message for contemporary graduates.
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Format: Paperback
The literary and mountaineering worlds beware. Bernadette McDonald has found her muse with the new Mountaineers Books `Legend and Lore' series. It seems as if I just shelved "I'll Call you in Kathmandu" when, to my amazement, Bernadette McDonald releases yet another great biography "Brotherhood of the Rope."

What an adventure. What a man. Charles Houston's life is a life that has truly been lived, a life full of adventure, scholarship, compassion, and deep friendships. What I most admire about Mr. Houston is his dedication and unrelenting passion for all of his many pursuits. I felt goose bumps when I read of his early expeditions to Alaska, deep sortie's and climbs in the Himalaya, his medical practice, and naturally his unforgettable K2 epic.

And, I must admit, a real sense of jealousy when reading of his treks across Afghanistan and the Middle East. I'm half tempted to jump on a plane this very minute to sit at Charles Houston's side and listen to his endless supply of yarns. I can only imagine what he has done, seen, and felt in his long and well lived life. He is a living legend in my mind. And...Bernadette McDonald captures his extraordinary life so well in her writing; it is obvious that she truly understands Charles Houston's importance in the mountaineering and medical world. Also, she has the unique ability to "open up" her subject matters, a rare gift that serves her well and allows for a story authentically told.

Bravo Bernadette McDonald!!! I await your next book with palpitating anticipation.

- Rob Torkildson
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