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Modern Classics the Mountains of My Life (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – International Edition, July 27, 2010
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Walter Bonatti had been scaling mountains for only a few years when, in 1954, he qualified to join an expedition of fellow Italian alpinists making the first ascent of the forbidding Himalayan peak called K2. There, for reasons that are unclear, the 24-year-old ran afoul of senior members of the team, who accused him of turning back before delivering needed oxygen to them below the summit. Accusations and counteraccusations flew, followed by a libel trial from which Bonatti emerged victorious but ostracized. He went on to bag a few peaks, retired from "extreme" climbing in 1965, and became an accomplished explorer and photojournalist, writing memoirs of his earlier expeditions to mountains on nearly every continent that earned a small but devoted following.
In The Mountains of My Life, translator and editor Robert Marshall gathers those scattered accounts of ascents in the Alps, the Patagonian Andes, the Himalayas, and elsewhere. In his commentary, he describes and defends Bonatti's actions on K2, which, he insists, made it possible for the Italian team to reach the summit. The evidence he offers--including photographs--is convincing. For his part, Bonatti writes that all the mountains he has climbed, "with all the trials they brought me, are a precious, living part of myself." His book will be of interest to anyone who shares that passion for the world's high places. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
When the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was conquered in 1954, young Italian mountaineer Bonatti was not one of the two men who reached the summit; he did, however, emerge as the most famous member of the expedition. The controversy over his role in the ascent started almost immediately after the climb and reached its peak in the mid-1960s, when he sued the writer of a newspaper article for libel--mostly, it appears, for the opportunity it provided to set out his own version of events. The story of the author's attempts to win recognition for his role in the conquest of K2 constitutes a large part of this memoir, which collects many of his writings about mountaineering. He is an engaging writer, capturing the excitement of mountain climbing like few other writers have done, and Marshall's translation is remarkably graceful. The book, part of the Modern Library Exploration series, is thrilling from start to finish, and among the best of the many recent true-life adventure sagas. David Pitt
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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Top Customer Reviews
The book is an autobiographical account of Bonatti's major climbs, including several sections on the much-discussed 1954 Italian expedition on K2. Bonatti clearly comes across as a committed climber, seeking purity and excitement in his climbs, who is often at a loss when faced with public criticism (on several accounts described in the book). As is often the case in the lives of people with outstanding talent, Bonati's life is beset by other people's envy and underhanded tactics, most frequently by his own compatriots. Yet, the book succeeds in demonstrating Bonatti's passion, drive and determination, while retaining the purity of mind and spirit that the mountains bestow on all!
Aside from being a highly personal account by one of the greatest mountaineers of all time, three things make this book outstanding:
(1) The beautiful translation by Robert Marshall (an Australian, who learned Italian for the sole purpose of reading mountaineering accounts!), who introduces each chapter with a short summary of the significance of the peak or route undertaken. Marshall also plays a key role of an "investigator" pointing out several pictures, which show that Compagnioni's and Desio's accounts of the K2 expedition are clearly false and manipulative;
(2) The book finally sets the record straight about the 1954 K2 expedition -- the fact that Lacedeli and Compaginoni used oxygen all the way to the top; the fact that they recklessly (if not intentionally) abandoned Bonatti in the bivouac, just feet from their warm tent above 8,000 meters; the fact that they manipulated accounts of the expedition to go as far as claiming that Bonatti wanted to charge ahead to the top on his own, endangering others. Two pictures, ironically published by Desio in an article immediately following the expedition clearly show Lacedeli and Compagnioni wearing oxygen masks at the top -- pictures, which are subsequently removed from Desio's book; and are only by accident discovered and brought forward by Rpbert Marshall only almost 50 years later! What a horrible thought that such an incredible climber, only in his 20s, could have been lost high up on K2, and we would have never come to know Bonatti as one of the all time greats! What a great feeling it is to know that truth sooner or later triumphs!
(3) the book is a true mountaineering story; it shows the aspirations, achievements and excitement of climbing in the immediate post- WW II era in Europe and Italy -- a period full of what is best about mountain climbing -- hope, innocence and passion!
This is a highly recommended book for everyone! My compliments to John Krakauer for including this wonderful book in the new Exploration series!
One can read here many details of the big climbs Bonatti did in the Alps and only get a hint of the level of suffering, fear and intensity of the experience, even though the text focuses much on just those aspects. Only by going out onto the big alpine walls and experiencing those emotions yourself can you expect to have even the slightest clue as to just how understated The Mountains Of My Life really is. But that's still only an approximation unless you climbed routes such as these back in the day, using the primitive gear that Walter and his partners had - and then only if your ethical stance was as strict as theirs. These dudes had mondo cajones, to say the least.
But you don't need to trust me - I've never climbed anything of significance. But would you dare not trust the opinions of Reinhold Messner and Doug Scott? Go read what they have to say about Walter's climbs. Then sit back and imagine what it was like to solo big routes back then. I've done just enough soloing to understand just how much more of a mental game it is.
I can't forget to mention how important Robert Marshall's role was in this book. Not only did he translate, but he played a key detective role in the K2 controversy. Once one has fully digested what transpired on the hill, then after, then one can begin to better understand just how driven Bonatti was, and why. This is an incredible story, but it is also incredibly sad to think how horribly one person can treat another. Even pursuits such as climbing are victim to those that are dishonest and apparently without a conscious. Clearly, evil men are capable of much greater evil when acting to conspire. I for one was happy to see all of the details of K2 be brought to the forefront, to have the liars exposed and for the truth to finally have its day.
The next to last chapter is the true gem of this book. Years after retiring from extreme mountaineering, Walter climbed a route on Mt. Blanc solo. The description of the landscape, the place and the space in this chapter are truly incredible. The reader is transported, smelling the air, sensing the dangers and feeling the coarse granite on the palm. This chapter is a true high point inmountaineering literature. I wonder if this writing was only possible after the wounds of the K2 debacle had adequate time to heal?
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