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The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory Hardcover – September, 2000
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In 1924, a 37-year-old English schoolmaster and war veteran named George Mallory bid farewell to his beloved wife and children and went off to Tibet, where he intended to climb the north face of Mount Everest, a feat that had never been achieved. He was warned that the approach might not be attainable--and that, in any event, humans might not be able to survive at such altitudes without oxygen. But in that fine British spirit of dauntlessness, Mallory pressed on all the same, and he and his novice companion Andrew Irvine did not survive.
When Mallory's frozen body was found on the high slopes of Everest in 1999, it touched off a wave of interest in the question of whether he had reached the top before falling to his death--which, if so, would unseat Edmund Hillary's 1953 expedition as the first to summit. Peter and Leni Gillman, themselves mountaineers, hint that he did, drawing on evidence that is at best circumstantial but compelling all the same. Their interest in this biography, however, is to provide a more complete picture of Mallory as a man of his time, who was a familiar among the Bloomsbury set of writers, a loving husband and father, an accomplished scholar and teacher, and a modest hero who, though not technically the best climber of his time, never refused a challenge. The Gillmans acquit themselves in this task very well, and they offer a fascinating reconstruction of what they imagine to be Mallory's last moments on earth. Their book makes a fine companion to Conrad Anker and David Roberts's The Lost Explorer and David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld's Last Climb. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Why did George Mallory, his 1924 expedition in treacherous straits, nevertheless make a last-ditch attempt to go for the summit of Mt. EverestAa decision that cost the lives of this seasoned climber and his young climbing partner, Andrew Irvine? To the Gillmans, British journalists and mountaineers who together retraced Mallory's 1921 reconnaissance expedition, the answer is plain: he hoped to resolve the conflict at the core of his marriage, to obviate the need for further expeditions and further separations from his beloved wife, Ruth. This vivid, illustrated biography is both a moving tribute to Mallory and a fresh reappraisal of the man and the legends surrounding him. While the authors take no position on whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached Everest's acmeAa controversy intensified by the discovery of Mallory's body in 1999Athey provide a useful summary of the ongoing debate. Drawing liberally on letters between Mallory and his wife, the Gillmans chart the highs and lows of a marriage strained by his periodic absences. While mountain climbing was for decades an imperialist's sport, Mallory did not fit the mold. A rector's son, he became a Fabian socialist and agnostic at Cambridge, making friends with poet Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves and Bloomsbury painter Duncan Grant, and indulging in a brief homosexual affair. Mallory's literary output includes a study of Boswell and an intense love sonnet to fianc?e Ruth. Among the spate of recent books on Mallory's Everest expeditions, this biography stands out for its well-rounded, sensitive portrait of a restless, thoughtful adventurer. Photos. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
George Mallory was a multi-faceted guy and maybe a bit quirky. His life in the British Public School system (all single sex) made his early life very homosexual and his latter life--perhaps a bit so. He did like to hike in the nude and skinny dip. He was a nudist and so was his wife and her family--and their children. He was a literary fellow. He loved to write on mountains and Boswell. He loved to read poetry--and clearly had his favorites--often re-reading them--while on Everest. His father was an Anglican clergyman who thought that putting ten rocks in a bag would rid him of his ten warts. Not exactly a discerning believer. George, like his father was eccentric but he was also practical. He was bored to tears with his teaching job--hence one of the reasons to do Everest. It was a way out. He had fascinating friendships--such as the Strachey brothers, Robert Graves, Keynes, Rupert Brooke, etc. He was a war vet--but seemed more irritated by its waste rather than emotionally scarred. He did support the war in order to stop German militarism from dominating Europe. Though George is known for his deep loving relationship with his wife Ruth--I suspect he was bored with her a bit and she was often "underwhelming."
There is not too much mountaineering detail. This book is written for the novice as well as the expert.
George Mallory was a very literary man, with a profound sense of adventure, bored with his life and perhaps his wife, who was a profound romantic--and scholar/intellect--as only the Edwardian Age can produce (such as Sommerset Maughm), and an outside the box thinker--and very independent intellectually. His hold over the ages is the connection he made between climbing mountains and conquering oneself. What a clarion call! That profundity of Mallory, combined with WWI, literature, homosexuality, nudism, and all that George Mallory and those that peopled his world make a great story.
I feel as if I know him well after having read this book.
The book attempts to answer 2 key questions:
Why did he depart for the 3rd time in 1924?
Why did he & Irvine make their final attempt (when the expedition was in desparate straits from illness & exhaustion, & supply lines dangerously extended)?
I tired of the seemingly endless pieces of "evidence", which would prove he was gay or not. Quite what motives the authors had for this part of the book were unclear to me
I also tired of the details of the climbing in Wales, but maybe this part will be enjoyed more by the climbing purists
So did it answer the 2 central questions?
I suppose no book will, but I was rather hoping it would bring me closer than it did
I am puzzled by how easily the authors dismiss Mallory's technical abilities as insufficient for having made it to the top. While these first climbers may have certainly been inadequately dressed for the environment, I don't believe for a minute that these men were not fit or accomplished enough compared to today's climbers. Weeks on a boat, then travelling essentially on foot and horses made them fit enough (probably also by being able to acclimatize themselves for a much longer period than today)for any crack at the summit. This is a book about a man who dared to live his wildest dream against - finally - all odds and this story is worth being told.