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Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 18, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 264 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: It’s tempting to call Wade Davis’s magnificent Into the Silence an Everest of a book. But that would be misleading. It is more like K2: challenging, technically complex, and hugely rewarding upon completion. The book starts off not with mountaineering, but with vivid, novelistic descriptions of the horrors of the First World War. Years of waste and destruction in the trenches, Davis argues, “led a desperate nation to embrace the assault on Everest as a gesture of imperial redemption.” Those who endured attempts on the summit all bore the scars of the Great War—and they were drawn to the mountain by an almost contradictory desire for conquest and spiritual ablution. At the center of it all is Mallory, whose eventual disappearance effectively closed that chapter in mountaineering. His utterance “because it’s there” became a new war cry, but he climbed for deeper reasons entirely. -- Chris Schluep


“Davis’s book, ten years in the writing, is highly absorbing narrative . . . A heroic attempt to capture the scale of the undertaking to conquer the highest mountain on earth.”
—Michael Jeffries, The Newark Star-Ledger
“A magnificent, audacious venture . . . Into the Silence is quite unlike any other mountaineering book. It not only spins a gripping Boy’s Own yarn about the early British expeditions to Everest, but investigates how the carnage of the trenches bled into a desire for redemption at the top of the world. Many of those Himalayan explorers, including Mallory, had served in the corpse-ridden fields of northern France. Indeed, of the 26 men who climbed in the three expeditions, 20 had seen front-line action. Six had been severely wounded, two others hospitalized by disease at the front, and one treated for shell shock. All had seen dozens of friends and countrymen die. For these veterans, the author argues, death had lost its power . . . At its heart, Into the Silence is an elegy for a lost generation.”
—Ed Caesar, The Sunday Times (Front cover)

“A gripper of a read . . . Silence revives the cliff’s-edge drama of those Jazz age climbs and drives home the tragedy of Mallory’s death.”
—Bruce Barcott, Outside
“The men in this story had, for the most part, been young in 1914, bright and energetic and full of dreams. By 1918 those who had survived had seen and done things that no one should have to know about, and Davis does a magnificent job detailing their experiences, setting up the rest of the story—the expeditionary saga—as a logical response, even an inspired rejoinder to the soul-destroying realities of war. . . it is perhaps the book’s signature achievement that [Davis] keeps the narrative zipping along toward its inexorable and tragic conclusion while so thoroughly and persuasively contextualizing key events.”
—Christina Thompson, The Boston Globe
“This profoundly ambitious book aims high itself, because it sets the subject of Everest in a specific historical context . . . . Davis’s monumental work ranges . . .  widely through the matter of Everest, both on and off the mountain, with harrowing descriptions of life and death on the Western Front, with frank dissections of rivalries, motives, inadequacies and confusions, and measured character studies.”
—Jan Morris, The Telegraph
“A meticulous recreation . . . The death in 1912 of Captain Scott and his companions in the Antarctic set a precedent of sacrifice for the generation of young British men who, a few years later, would hurl themselves into the maelstrom of the Great War. That Scott’s expedition was, according to later accounts, doomed by incompetent leadership only makes its failure seem more prophetic. Now, in Wade Davis’s magnificent new book, the remaining goal of imperial exploration is seen as an outcome of—and response to—the First World War. While Scott’s expedition was, in some ways, an exercise in heroic futility, the conquest of Mount Everest could help to exorcise the massed ghosts of the dead.”
—Geoff Dyer, The Guardian 
“[A] meticulous history . . . Culminating in detailed accounts of the ascents that astutely weigh events and controversies, this vital contribution to Everest literature should rivet readers.”
—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“The First World War, the worst calamity humanity has ever inflicted on itself, still reverberates in our lives. In its immediate aftermath, a few young men who had fought in it went looking for a healing challenge, and found it far from the Western Front. In recreating their astonishing adventure, Wade Davis has given us an elegant meditation on the courage to carry on.”
—George F. Will 
“I was captivated. Wade Davis has penned an exceptional book on an extraordinary generation. They do not make them like that anymore. And there would always only ever be one Mallory. From the pathos of the trenches to the inevitable tragedies high on Everest this is a book deserving of awards. Monumental in its scope and conception it nevertheless remains hypnotically fascinating throughout. A wonderful story tinged with sadness.”
—Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void

Into the Silence is utterly fascinating, and grippingly well-written.  With extraordinary skill Wade Davis manages to weave together such disparate strands as Queen Victoria’s Indian Raj, the ‘Great Game’  of intrigue against Russia, the horrors of the Somme, and Britain’s obsession to conquer the world’s highest peak, all linking to that terrible moment atop Everest when Mallory fell to his death. The mystery of whether he and Irving ever reached the summit remains tantalizingly unsolved.”
—Alistair Horne, author of The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
Into the Silence is a breathtaking triumph. An astonishing piece of research, it is also intensely moving, evoking the courage, chivalry, and sacrifice that drove Mallory and his companions through the war and to ever greater heights.”
 —William Shawcross, author of The Queen Mother
“Wade Davis’s mesmerizing telling of George Mallory’s fabled story gives new and revealing weight to the significance of this post-war era and to his dazzlingly accomplished and courageous companions. Into the Silence succeeds not only because Davis’s research is prodigious, but because every sentence has been struck with conviction, every image evoked with fierce reverence—for the heartbreaking twilight era, for the magnificent resilience of its survivors, for their mission, for Mallory, for his mountain. An epic worth of its epic.”
—Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance and The War That Killed Achilles


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First edition (October 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375408894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375408892
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
George Mallory is one of the names that those interested in Mt. Everest probably know in some detail. He's a legend, the man who disappeared not far from Everest's peak in 1924, and leading to the mystery if Hillary and Norgay were actually the first two to make the summitt.

But, often, that's ALL he is, just a legend, without a person behind all the effort. That's what he was to me. Sort of "this other guy tried to climb Everest, but he didn't make it." Then when he was found in 1999, it added to the legend, but still not the person. I thought it was neat at the time, finding him after all those years; a mystery solved.

"Into the Silence" provides the context and combination of vast research so a reader sees Mallory as the full-color adventurer of his time. It wasn't that he simply set out to climb Everest; what makes the story so vast is author Wade Davis' careful walkthrough of the decades of planning and imagination that were required by him and many others for years before his climb. Davis describes the entire story, in pinpoint - often heart-wrenching, though sometimes boring - detail. It makes the reader appreciate how impossible the 1924 effort really was, how so far ahead of their time were Mallory and Sandy Irvine. It's fair to compare it to the moon landing - it never should have worked, not with the equipment they had. And unfortunately, for Mallory and Irvine it didn't work.

The epic scope takes readers from the World War I battlefields to colonial India to Everest's North Col in equal detai and description. No part of the journey receives lesser treatment.

Sometime that is too much. The book is nearly 700 pages, and of course it could be edited.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Wade Davis's research is prodigious! You'll find out everything you wanted to know (and perhaps more than that) about the Everest expeditions of the early twenties. The book gets off to a rather slow start, and I found myself wondering when it would get into the good stuff, but after fifty pages or so, I was completely hooked and found it hard to put down. Davis gives a good deal of attention to the experiences of the 1914-18 war; I hadn't realized the extent to which the events of that war affected the lives of almost everyone who was on these expeditions: in fact, a large number of the climbers had not fully recovered from their wounds, physical and mental, suffered in the war. And the author doesn't shrink from a thorough and balanced discussion of Mallory's sexuality.

The book isn't perfect. There's so much detail that I sometimes found myself losing track of who was who: it might have been useful to include a brief roster of each expedition summarizing who the members were. And I'd have liked to hear a bit more about the quixotic Maurice Wilson, who gets only a couple of passing mentions. But these are quibbles. There's a lot of good reading here.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a hard book to review because of the mix of good and bad. Davis spent ten years writing and a lifetime reading, the amount of research is epic, it's probably the definitive book on the first three Everest expeditions 1921-24, no small thing considering so many other books. Yet most of the book describes background and logistics with not much time on the mountain by comparison. We learn about the history of the people involved (dozens), history of Tibet, history of WWI, trips to India, trips to Tibet, trips across Tibet, trips back from Tibet. It is highly researched and often boring by its nature since so much happens that is banal. The famous 1924 expedition in which Mallory dies is well told but accounts for only about 50 of 576 pages, or less than 10% of the book. On the other hand there are parts that are really interesting, such as the WWI biographies, and Davis' central theme that the wars silent but ever present influence on the expedition ultimately decided its fate.

The annotated bibliography is equally epic, nearly 50 pages long of recommendations for further reading, it's an impressive Everest Geek-fest, probably the best bibliography of its type and worth owning for alone. I'm not sure who to recommend this book to, certainly anyone who has been to Everest, or with an interest in Himalayan climbing history. If your looking for an introduction to Mallory or a gripping mountain adventure, it may be a long hard climb.
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