Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Review: Into the Silence

Summary: 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 Mount Everest’s North Col. George Mallory, thirty-seven, was Britain’s finest climber. Sandy Irvine was a young Oxford scholar of twenty-two with little previous mountaineering experience. Neither of them returned.

In this magisterial work of history and adventure, based on more than a decade of prodigious research in British, Canadian, and European archives, and months in the field in Nepal and Tibet, Wade Davis vividly re-creates British climbers’ epic attempts to scale Mount Everest in the early 1920s. With new access to letters and diaries, Davis recounts the heroic efforts of George Mallory and his fellow climbers to conquer the mountain in the face of treacherous terrain and furious weather. Into the Silence sets their remarkable achievements in sweeping historical context: Davis shows how the exploration originated in nineteenth-century imperial ambitions, and he takes us far beyond the Himalayas to the trenches of World War I, where Mallory and his generation found themselves and their world utterly shattered.  In the wake of the war that destroyed all notions of honor and decency, the Everest expeditions, led by these scions of Britain’s elite, emerged as a symbol of national redemption and hope.

Beautifully written and rich with detail, Into the Silence is a classic account of exploration and endurance, and a timeless portrait of an extraordinary generation of adventurers, soldiers, and mountaineers the likes of which we will never see again. -- Knopf

When I read the description for INTO THE SILENCE: THE GREAT WAR, MALLORY, AND THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST by Wade Davis, I thought it sounded like a book that might be a good fit for Booking Pap Pap. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Booking Pap Pap really did make a good effort to appreciate this book; however, I think it was even a little too detailed for him. Here are his thoughts:

I must admit that INTO THE SILENCE by Wade Davis is one of the few books that I did not enjoy reading.  I actually found myself time and again skimming large sections of what I considered monotonous detail. I was disappointed in myself because I had read many terrific reviews of this book.

The book starts by describing the horrors of World War I and makes a case that the War was a prime motivator in the British assaults on Mount Everest, the highest point on the earth.  Davis described the War with a bitter tone and was highly critical of British leadership.  The War not only serves as an introduction to the book but is referenced throughout the book each time a biography is written for a team member who served in the War.  He then goes on to discuss in great detail the 1921, 1922 and 1924 British attempts to conquer Mount Everest while highlighting the efforts of George Mallory, the one man who was a part of all three efforts. 

The narrative describing the first attempt in 1921 was somewhat interesting in that the team was traveling in areas not identified on any map created up to that time.  A big part of the quest was actually finding a way to the mountain and mapping the new areas.  The effort required tremendous political and diplomatic negotiations and encountered immense logistical problems.  The author describes the team’s effort in crossing through Tibet.  He emphasized the difference in the cultures of the Great Britain and Tibet.  While the British looked at the mountain as a challenge, the Tibetans viewed Mount Everest as sacred and could not see any reason why anyone would want to climb it.

All three attempts appeared to be poorly equipped and less than prepared.  Each attempt did however learn from the prior one and the teams had some opportunity to employ new technology.  One innovation was the use of oxygen in climbing about certain heights.  Although none of the attempts resulted in reaching the summit, in each attempt men climbed higher than any man had ever climbed before.  The third and final attempt resulted in the death of George Mallory, one of the greatest British climbers.  Some feel that Mallory actually reached the summit and died on his way down.  No one would officially reach the summit until 1953.

It took Wade Davis ten years to write INTO THE SILENCE and based on the detail in the book did an amazing amount of research.  I felt that as Davis tried to capture the smallest details of the three attempts, the book bogged down.  In my opinion the strength of the book was in the way the author transitioned from the horrors of the War to the elation of attempting to climb the highest mountain on earth.  It captured the minds and hearts of the British who were weary from the War and needed a diversion. 

This book is definitely not for the casual reader but for those with a specific interest in the British attempts to scale Mount Everest in the 1920s.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy and to Booking Pap Pap for his honest review.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Well poop! I absolutely LOVE stories like this, and these guys are so famous, it should be totally riveting. Unfortunately some people just can't pull back from the detail and lay it out so it is palatable for the layman. But good for Pap Pap for reading it for us, and doing his best!

bermudaonion said...

If it was too detailed for Booking Pap Pap, I know it would be for me. Well, at least that's one book I don't need to add to my wish list.

Beth F said...

I love books like this but I trust Pap Pap's judgement here. I love outdoor stories and I've had a fascination with Mallory, but this might be a bit more detailed than I need. On the other hand, my mountaineering friend might just love this.

Serena said...

This sounds like a book that is too bogged down in detail for my tastes, but I'm going to add it to the WWI recommendation list at War Through the Generations for 2012 since it seems to reference the war quite a bit.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I trust BPP as well, and concur with Sandy's trenchant comment (well poop!)

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

You're right, the premise of this books sounds fascinating. Too bad the details bogged down the book. I'm glad you were still able to get something from it.