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Fatal Mountaineer: The High-Altitude Life and Death of Willi Unsoeld, American Himalayan Legend Paperback – March 20, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
It is hard to categorize this book. It is not a biography (see Laurence Leamer's "Ascent"). It is not a memoir; I don't believe the author knew Willi Unsoeld in life. "Fatal Mountaineer" concentrates mainly on three defining moments in Willi's life: his brilliant traverse of Everest via the West Ridge in 1963 when Unsoeld was at the peak of his ability, the tragic death of his daughter Devi on her namesake mountain, and Willi's death in an avalanche on Mt. Rainier at age 54. There are explanations and definitions of Bergson and John Muir's philosophies throughout. These two philosophers supposedly had a significant influence on Willi's spiritual outlook.
Sometimes it was hard to tell who was the main subject of this book, Willi or John Roskelly. The author seems to have a love/hate relationship toward Roskelly referring to him as the "Buffalo Demon" and a wily self-promoter while praising his mountaineering abilities to the skies. Mr. Roper's extensive quoting from Roskelly's book is unacknowledged by the author except for an asterisk on page 265.
The Nanda Devi climb that culminated in the mysterious death of Unsoeld's daughter, aged 22, is given the most attention. As the expedition leader and as a father, Unsoeld's behavior was strange to say the least; his exploitation of this tragedy afterward via lectures, slideshows, and presentations was inexcusable.Read more ›
Myself being a writer, a collector of mountaineering lit, a climber, and knowing about Willi's life and his expeditions, I was highly disappointed in this book. Overall, the book and subject were very poorly researched; bad preparation and bad writing go hand-in-hand. Knowing that many of Roper's statements are nothing more than second-hand, inaccurate speculations, it was painfully difficult to read. Besides painting John Roskelley as an "enfant terrible" and "buffalo demon" (both of which he is not) throughout the entire novel, Robert Roper (no relation to honorable climber-writer Steve Roper) couldn't even spell Roskelley's name correctly. Never are there citings or resources given--nor is there defined reasoning--for Roper's speculation and suppositions, of which this is one: "Roskelly (sic) is a special sort of bully, someone who tromps all over others in their most uncertain places, who gets his way by his willingness to say hateful things."
If you're thinking of reading Roper's "Fatal Mountaineer," don't. Read instead Roskelley's first-hand account of the expedition that fills most pages of Roper's novel, "Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition." And even though it has it's own shortcomings, a much better biography of Unsoeld is Lawrence Leamer's "Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of the Legendary Mountaineer Willi Unsoeld.Read more ›
Unlike other reviewers, I felt that Roper's "digressions"--on Bergson, Muir, and on the CIA's attempt to place a tracking device atop Nanda Devi in order to spy on Chinese nuclear testing--were all fascinating, and essential to Unsoeld's (and Devi's) story.
Roper is a fine writer, capable of vivid, even poetic prose, in an era when we seem to demand nothing but spare, no-frills accounts. Indeed, few books can match Joe Simpson's TOUCHING THE VOID or Herzog's ANNAPURNA in mountaineering lit, but I found this book riveting, both for its accounts of the three central climbs that informed Unsoeld's life and death (Everest, Nanda Devi, Rainier) and for the philosophy that informed his life.
I would have liked a bit more on Unsoeld's experiences as a guide in the Tetons and on his pre-Everest climbs, but overall, I found this book extremely well-written.
At times this book was irritating , other times it made me yawn. Roskelley's book on the Nanda Devi tragedy is a much more engrossing read and hard to put down. Now I'm not comparing this books section on the Nanda Devi tragedy to Roskelley's book but, I do find it interesting that a person who wasn't even remotely associated with the climb can so easily pick it apart and smear the good names of some of its members all the while effectively cannonizing others.
Which leads me to my next point: This book is supposed to be an homage to a great mountaineer, Willi Unsoeld, but the author doesn't even do his books subject honor. The author re-hashes the American Everest climb from 1963, but this has all been done before, there is no new insight, no new offerings.The author talks about Unseold's untimely death but, again, nothing new. This book, is in effect, boring. It is also aggravating. I found myself getting quite irritated as the author continued to take his perpetual pot shots at Roskelley and Jim States.
The author wasn't on Devi, he wasn't on Everest in '63 and he wasn't on Ranier with Unsoeld when he died.The author had no first hand experience and I found his biased slop a let down and boring.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Strange book. It could have been a great book, but the author was all over the place. I stuck with it and kept hoping that sooner or later it would get better. But it didn't. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Clayton Davis
I think the title of this book is misleading. It is NOT about the life of Willi Unsoeld but focuses on ONE tragic climb of Nanda Devi and mentions his West Ridge Summit of Everest... Read morePublished on June 21, 2013 by Colbyhund
Tragic tale. This was a tear jerker in my opinion. Outstanding tale of life, relationships, tragedy and adventure. Good read!Published on November 16, 2012 by Gordon Swoyer Jr
I don't think I have ever read a book that gets on my nerve pretty much from the start. I plodded through it because I REALLY wanted to review this book and in good conscience... Read morePublished on April 1, 2010 by Global Nomad
This book does not deserve the one star I 'had' to give it. Firstly, the book is not a biography, it is really about the Nanda Devi climb of 1976, all other stories are secondary. Read morePublished on March 22, 2010 by 30knotwind
This book was recommended by an acquaintence and climber. After reading the previous reviews, I had second thoughts. Read morePublished on August 13, 2008 by W. E. Yake
Yes, we are all human, and have egos. Mr Roper did more to erode the human Mr Unsoeld with his speculation, grandiose words and tangential philosophy, than to give us insight into... Read morePublished on March 6, 2004 by Robert R. Chanpong
The writter forgot that this was a book about a mountaineer. This could have been an exciting, inspiring book about a great climber and instead its a book about someone's... Read morePublished on February 5, 2003