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Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest Paperback – Illustrated, October 2, 2012
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The definitive story of the British adventurers who survived the trenches of World War I and went on to risk their lives climbing Mount Everest.
On June 6, 1924, two men set out from a camp perched at 23,000 feet on an ice ledge just below the lip of Everest’s North Col. George Mallory, thirty-seven, was Britain’s finest climber. Sandy Irvine was a twenty-two-year-old Oxford scholar with little previous mountaineering experience. Neither of them returned.
Drawing on more than a decade of prodigious research, bestselling author and explorer Wade Davis vividly re-creates the heroic efforts of Mallory and his fellow climbers, setting their significant achievements in sweeping historical context: from Britain’s nineteen-century imperial ambitions to the war that shaped Mallory’s generation. Theirs was a country broken, and the Everest expeditions emerged as a powerful symbol of national redemption and hope. In Davis’s rich exploration, he creates a timeless portrait of these remarkable men and their extraordinary times.
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Praise for Into the Silence:
"A kaleidoscopic account. . . . Ambitious. . . . Entertaining. . . . Extraordinary."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Brilliantly engrossing. . . . An instant classic of mountaineering literature."
—The Guardian (London)
"Magnificent. . . . Davis tells the full story behind this almost mythic story, imbuing it with historic scope and epic sweep."
—Los Angeles Times
"A masterpiece standing atop its own world, along with the classic Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer."
—Salt Lake City Tribune
"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. . . . At its heart, Into the Silence is an elegy for a lost generation . . . a magnificent, audacious venture."
—The Sunday Times (London)
"Magnificent. . . . Impressive. . . . A vivid account."
—The Observer (London)
"Utterly compelling. . . . Not only a thorough examination of Mallory’s determined advances on Everest, but also insight into the psyche of post-war England. . . . A mesmerizing story of the human spirit."
"Powerful and profound, a moving, epic masterpiece of literature, history and hope."
—The Times (London)
"A brilliant book. I can’t praise it enough."
"Davis has produced a magnificent, rigorously researched account of the expeditions that set out to regain glory for an empire in decline but, instead, created some of the most enduring legends of the 20th century."
"A magnificent work of scholarship . . . and narrative drive. . . . [Davis] has written far and away the best account of this seminal chapter in the epic history of mountaineering."
"Davis is a fine storyteller. . . . A deep current of sympathy runs through the book. . . . One comes away with a feeling almost of tenderness for these men, of admiration for their stoicism in the face of extreme suffering, and their willingness to risk everything for a transcendent ideal. . . . The quest, finally, is not for the summit of Everest, or even for the story of how it eluded these men, but rather for a complex and compassionate understanding of the world in which they lived and died."
—The Boston Globe
"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."
"An exceptional book on an extraordinary generation. . . . 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
"Brilliant. . . . The product of a decade’s research, Into the Silence has two supreme strengths, the first of which is the emotional, spiritual and historical context it provides against which to understand the central events. The other is the author’s effortless knack for sketching character."
"Magnificent. . . . Fascinating. . . . To keep this mass of material from bulging out of the narrative is an impressive feat of literary organization and management."
—Geoff Dyer, The Guardian (London)
"Combining the pace of a thriller with a degree of detail as nuanced as any academic study, this is an atmospheric and exhilarating book."
—Time Out (London)
"Profoundly ambitious. . . . Impressive. . . . Monumental. . . . This is perhaps the first book . . . to survey the matter not as a record of high adventure, exploration, mountaineering technique or political history, but as zeitgeist."
—Jan Morris, The Telegraph (London)
"As breathtaking and astounding as any previous climbing literature."
"[Into the Silence] stands as a near masterpiece."
—The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"Mesmerizing. . . . An epic worthy of its epic."
—Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance
"Richly detailed, and often riveting, with vivid portraits of all the players, [Davis’s] book juxtaposes human ambition, courage and adaptive capability with the relentless realities of terrain and weather. It will stand as the definitive treatment of this subject."
"A breathtaking triumph. An astonishing piece of research, it is also intensely moving."
—William Shawcross, author of The Queen Mother
"Davis’s lucid and sometimes haunting prose, his masterly handling of a great volume of material, his vivid portraits of the astonishing cast of characters, and of places as diverse as Newfoundland, the trenches of northern France, and the Tibetan plateau, all contribute to this achievement. . . . A world apart from the gimmicks and media stunts that have surrounded the cult of Mallory and Irvine, Davis’s book stands as a fitting memorial to a story that is at once poignant and stirring."
—The Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Highly absorbing. . . . A heroic attempt to capture the scale of the undertaking to conquer the highest mountain on earth."
—The Newark Star-Ledger
"In recreating their astonishing adventure, Wade Davis has given us an elegant meditation on the courage to carry on."
—George F. Will
About the Author
Wade Davis is the bestselling author of fifteen books, including Into the Silence, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and One River, and is an award-winning anthropologist, ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He currently holds the post of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and has been named by the National Geographic Society as one of the Explorers for the Millennium. His work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, and all over the world, but he spends most of his time between Washington, D.C., and northern British Columbia.
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated edition (October 2, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 688 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375708154
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375708152
- Item Weight : 1.41 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 1.35 x 7.99 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #75,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #42 in Mountain Climbing
- #111 in Expeditions & Discoveries World History (Books)
- #311 in Traveler & Explorer Biographies
- Customer Reviews:
About the authors
Top reviews from the United States
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Reflecting on these men, I knew WW I was indeed ghastly, but it was also the forge of heroes---especially in the form these uncommon men. Both my uncle and my father served in WW I, the uncle actually a volunteer in 1915, years before his country entered the war. For that reason I knew of the squalor, despair and unavoidable fates of those entrenched. These men Davis defines for us were indeed Homeric demi-gods. It seems each of them was an accomplished scholar, indefatigable mountaineer, and a poet, musician, doctor, warrior, writer, or artist to boot. Despite the quirks and passions they displayed, each was a model of achievement, certitude and colossal gifts. My aforementioned uncle had been born in 1895 and my own father in 1899---and they were, if not mountaineers, at least exceedingly accomplished and admirable men.
I deemed Davis' book a "semester course" because even its annotated bibliography is a book in itself. The amount of his research is simply Everestan, truly stupifying . I recommend it to all who want a grounding and a base-camp for further reading on the "Third Pole" as it is sometimes called.
The only portion which stuck in my craw was Davis' seemingly gratuitous trashing of Americans in the party which actually discovered Mallory's body. On page 569, he accurately (and to him at least) fairly demeans the Americans by referring to their "singularly inarticulate" musings, which included the words "awesome", "totally cool" and "bummer". Davis is indeed being accurate by citing these lamentable linguistic lapses. The latter are a sure earmark of the failure of American education to elucidate and inspire, but it just felt a little gratuitous. My solution would be for Wade Davis, on one of his trips to Europe, to spend an hour or so in the American graveyard at Coleville-sur-Mer. Therein lie thousands of Americans who, like Mallory and Irvine, will remain "forever young" as they say, by dint of sacrificing themselves in the major wars of the previous century. We Americans may be lurching toward Jerry Springer Nation status, but some of us know, some of us read, and some of us reach for the heights, if only by reading superb books such as this. Highly, highly recommended!
An exhaustive 45-page annotated bibliography at the story's conclusion is well worth a read. In it Davis lists a great many references for further reading, as well as much additional information about the actors in this saga that did not fit into the main story. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves mountains and respects the courage and fortitude of those who would seek to climb them. It also provides a fascinating look at some more of the problems faced - and created by the British "Raj" during its domination of India.
Top reviews from other countries
- This is a remarkable masterpiece of writing about the theme that “the price of life is death” for all those who had lived through the first world war or the Great War. Wade Davis tells the story of the early exploration into Tibet by Francis Younghusband, which began the first conquest of Tibet by a European and during that duration of looking at the possibility of climbing Everest, accounts of the most horrific war run in the most idiotic way of the great war that many of these climbers survived, and of the first three attempts to conquer climb Mount Everest in 1921, 1922 and 1924.
– The accounts of the First World War are remarkable, Davis has collected and researched diaries of those who climbed the mountain which include many of their accounts of war, which are truly horrific. The fact that the British generals refused to use steel helmet which would protect a man’s head much better than the cloth cap they used, refuse to use machine guns and choose rifles which shot at a much slower rate than the machine guns used by the enemy and in some of the attacks on the Germans, Allied soldiers were made to walk rather than run and rush the German trenches and were mowed down like cattle in seconds. The generals were truly incompetent but idealising british history. A couple of quotes amongst so many include the following:
- “Other witnesses remember Wakefield hesitating and then slowly beginning to sob as the flag drew back to reveal the names of those who had perished: caught on the barbed wire, drowned in mud, choked by the oily slime of gas, reduced to a spray of red mist, quartered limbs hanging from shattered branches of burnt trees, bodies swollen and blackened with flies, skulls gnawed by rats, corpses stuck in the sides of trenches that aged with each day into the colours of the dead.”
- “Vera Brittain, a nurse who had already lost her brother and her two best friends, and in time would lose Roland [her fiance] as well. “The dugouts have been nearly all blown in,” he wrote, the wire entanglements are a wreck, and in among the chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men … Let him who thinks war is a glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking honour and praise and valour and love of country … Let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all youth and joy and life into a fetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that victory is worth the death of even one of these?”
– The book then focuses on the initial scouting group in 1921 with an attempt to climb Mount Everest, followed by two more in 1922 and 1924. This is real boys adventure stuff but it’s also a fascinating look into different cultures and landscapes. I think Wade Davis writes with remarkable pros and he is one of my favourite writers whom I could listen to him talk about anything.
– On a personal note I have travelled through Tibet, India and Nepal and it was interesting listening to the depictions of these countries and places that I have seen and visited, and hear as they were described at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve been to many places described, slept one night on Everest base camp (they have a Buddhist monastery there) in Tibet and visited many of these places described in the book. I’ve also drunk my fair share of Yak tea, cooked withYak dung - like watery tea strained through a smelly sock with the smell of petroleum. Tibet’s culture is truly remarkable and its people and beliefs are fascinating and well described. This is a book about death that can make you appreciate life. It could be travel reportage, boys' own adventure, a spiritual guide to different cultures and the very belief that ‘the price of life is death’ as so many of these men who tried to conquer the tallest mountain in the world had already lost so much.
– For such a long book I really didn’t want it to end, I loved every word of it – the spiritual, physical, the characters who attempted to climb the tallest mountain on the planet because “it was there“. I would recommend anything Wade Davis writes and I would certainly recommend this book.
I appreciate that a criticism of the book is the huge amount of scene setting and background information, but I think it’s essential to understand what all these men had been through and what drove them to attempt what was basically impossible. It’s an incredibly complex web of ambition, the need to escape and the desire to stare down death all interlaced with the curiously British conflicts of class prejudice and a superiority complex along with the juxtaposition of both appreciation and disregard for ‘foreign cultures’.
This is no thrill a minute ride, nor does it ever set out to be. The sheer amount of research that the author has done in order to knit the individual stories together is praiseworthy in its own right but to actually turn that into a readable book is an outstanding piece of work. Yes, you will be constantly looking back to remind yourself about all the characters involved but you need to accept that as a necessary evil to really appreciate the narrative.
As a final word, let’s not forget that these men sought to get to the summit of Everest in Arron sweaters, tweed trousers and hobnail boots - and they bloody nearly made it. It is my hope that the body of Sandy Irvine will be found in my lifetime and that his camera will be there with a recoverable film in it, in order to lay any speculation to rest. Whether they made it or not is now a moot point, it’s what drove them to try that truly beggars the mind and this book lays it bare. This isn’t a book in the Into Thin Air or Touching The Void mould (and I can recommend both of those too), it’s far more of a social history slant that happens to encompass one of the greatest challenges on Earth.
I cannot recommend highly enough.
Some readers are only interested in the ascent of the peak but, this misses the point completely.To understand the mountain and its hold on this generation of climbers, you only have to look at the fascinating history of the protagonists.
The Great War produced these men who experienced death and destruction on an industrial scale.The Somme,Passchendale and Ypres are littered with remains of the cream of British climbing.
Some of those who survived made up the majority of the expeditions. From Wakefield and the tragic Newfoundland regiment, slaughtered on the first day of the Somme. To General Bruce and the Gurkhas at Gallipoli. Mount Everest was a moment to heal the wounds of the war and put the Union Jack atop the highest point on Earth. Redemption for the Empire.
Then along comes Mallory!
A rather odd hero for the masses, but hero he was. He was educated at Winchester and Charterhouse, and mixed with the liberal academia of the time. The epitome of the Edwardian middle classes. But, like Wakefield, Bruce, Norton and Somervell experienced the front line during WW1.
This spirit of survival and redemption oozes from every page of Mr Davis’s book.It is by far the best book ever written on the subject. His research is meticulous and his writing and interpretation of the time comes alive.
My only gripe? A bit too much about Mallorys latent homosexuality.A bit like a scoop to be honest. Don’t see that part of his life having anything to do with climbing Mount Everest.
The book is suffused with withering criticism of "the British". The author exhibits his prejudice at every opportunity. His relativist, subjectivist tone squeezes the life out of his narrative. For him, Mallory and the rest were two-dimensional products of a country built on racism and class bigotry. He fails to get under the skin of his subjects and leans back on easy assumptions.
Disregard this book if you are seeking balanced judgements.
At first, I didn't entirely buy into his focus on the War. It seemed a bit overstated, but I read on because the stories are well told and full of interesting detail - his research is really exhaustive, as the huge notes section demonstrates. Eventually, it really does knit together, and you begin to understand the thoughts and actions of the climbers very much in the light of their experience and era. I came away not only with a better understanding of the events he focuses on, but also with more knowledge about the politics and arts of the period. Davis seems comfortable writing about arts, literature, Tibetan Buddhism, and a range of other subjects which really help to add context to his story.
So in summary, a great tale, thoroughly engaging and well-paced, with interesting details and speculations throughout. One of the most enjoyable and informative books I've read in some time, and a book which kindles your interest in a variety of topics and sent me off with an interest in a string of other topics. You can't ask for much more than that...