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The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer Paperback – June 15, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Before his 30th birthday, Bradford Washburn was already a legendary mountaineer, completing four major first ascents on his way to becoming the greatest mountaineer in Alaskan history. Soon after, Washburn took over the creaky New England Museum of Natural History, which by his retirement in 1980, had become the renowned Boston Museum of Science. Washburn (1910–2007) was also an innovative cartographer as well as a self-taught photographer whose aerial shots garnered major acclaim. A longtime friend of Washburn and a former mountaineer, Roberts (No Shortcuts to the Top) is an ideal candidate for writing Washburn's biography, but the book lacks the depth of compelling biographies. Roberts's decision to extensively profile Washburn's various expeditions (and those of others) offers no insight on the man, while contributing to the book's glacial pace. Roberts obviously has nothing but admiration for Washburn and his accomplishments, but that inhibits opportunities to examine the dark side of Washburn's personal life—his responsibility for a fatal plane crash in 1938; son Ted's inappropriate behavior with high school students that divided the family—which are almost glossed over. (July)
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 the Back Cover

American Brad Washburn's impact on his protégés and imitators was as profound as that of any other adventurer in the twentieth century. Unquestionably regarded as the greatest mountaineer in Alaskan history and as one of the finest mountain photographers of all time, Washburn transformed American attitudes toward wilderness and revolutionized the art of mountaineering and exploration in the great ranges. In The Last of His Kind, National Geographic Adventure contributing editor David Roberts goes beyond conventional biography to reveal the essence of this man through the prism of his extraordinary exploits from New England to Chamonix, and from the Himalayas to the Yukon. An exciting narrative of mountain climbing in the twentieth century, The Last of His Kind brings into focus Washburn's deeds in the context of the history of mountaineering, and provides a fascinating look at an amazing culture and the influential icon who shaped it.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061560952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061560958
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fairbanks Reader - Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I did not like this book. While it portends to be a biography of the great adventurer and climber, Bradford Washburn, it contains more information about other climbers and the history and politics of the climbing world, than it contains information about Washburn. I have read other books by Roberts that I liked, especially On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined so I was disappointed that this book does not come up to that caliber. I was also chagrined that Mr. Roberts seems so interested in climbers' pedigrees. If a climber went to a particular ivy league school or came from old money, Mr. Roberts is sure to let the reader know. If the climber is just a regular Joe, all we get is his name.

The book is filled with minutiae about Bradford Washburn, giving the reader bits and pieces about his life without any feel for him as a person. I know that he was a climber, adventurer, photographer, cartographer, public speaker and museum director. I know that he was determined and stubborn. I know that he was married for many years to Barbara Washburn and that they had three children. Other than that, I can't say as I came away from this book knowing any more than that about him. I wanted to know what he was like as a person. What made him tick. What was his personality like. He does seem self-centered but Roberts never goes into that.

Roberts describes him as the premier climber of Alaska and the Yukon. Having lived in Alaska for over 40 years I can attest to Bradford Washburn being an icon.

If the book was edited so that it focused solely on Bradford Washburn, it would be much better and about 150 pages shorter.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Last of His Kind", by Dave Roberts, promises to be a good read. Its subject, Brad Washburn, was a precocious, highly successful American mountaineer who specialized in first ascents in the wilds of Alaska in the first half of the 20th Century, while pioneering aerial outdoor photography and while directing what became the Boston Museum of Science. The author is himself a highly competent and experienced mountaineer, and a practiced writer, who had a long friendship with Washburn.

Roberts' approach is chronological, walking the reader quickly up through Washburn's New England youth, his initial hiking experiences in New Hampshire's White Mountains, and his introduction as a teenager to mountaineering in the Alps, before plunging into a series of expeditions in the wilds of Alaska. An older Washburn enjoyed a long twilight as a senior mentor of the American mountaineering community.

Washburn, like his contemporary Eric Shipton, specialized in exploring blank spots on the map. For this reviewer, the best portions of the book are the hair-raising narratives of Washburn's traverses of the Wrangel-St. Elias, Chugach, and Alaska ranges, days to weeks away from outside assistance. Washburn's adventures on Mount McKinley (Denali to Alaska residents) are a highlight of this biography.

This book is less than fully satisfying as a biography. Roberts omits footnotes and, less forgivably, maps and pictures. The narrative has many breathless, sometimes gossipy anecdotes; Roberts cannot resist exploring sidetrails of mountaineering history that have little to do with Washburn's life. Oddly, Roberts seems reluctant to provide much insight into Washburn himself. For example, he wonders aloud why Washburn was never invited on any of the Himalayian expeditions of his day.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this biography, Roberts tells us the story of Brad Washburn's youth and career as a leading mountaineer in Alaska. This fact alone makes it an odd biography - - Washburn defined his main accomplishment as the Boston Museum of Science, and Roberts only touches on those decades of his subject's life. Moreover, Roberts believes that Washburn's main accomplishments came in the fields of mountain photography and cartography. Inexplicably, this biography talks about these photos and maps, but it doesn't include any of them. Roberts lovingly describes Washburn's Denali and Everest maps, and many of his photographs, but we never see any of them.

In addition to those strange choices of focus, the main narrative is regularly distracted by stories about mountaineers who are not Washburn. Even if Washburn was not included on an expedition, or if he declined to go along, we might nonetheless get a story about it if the expedition included some of his friends. Many of these stories concern the Andes or Himalaya, where Washburn did not climb. It's difficult to understand what this material is doing in this book other than providing Roberts an opportunity to use (or reuse) some material.

Finally, the last two chapters relate a series of anecdotes, mostly about people around Washburn (including the author). Roberts claims Washburn as a mentor but the contacts that he reports do not seem deep, or personal enough to warrant such a claim. Interestingly, Roberts' relationship with Washburn's wife Barbara are reported in much more detail and make a more convincing case for a mentor-protégé relationship.

So, there are a lot of authorial choices here that struck me as odd.
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