Arts & Humanities: Everest Anniversaries | April 15, 2013

Coburn, Broughton. The Vast Unknown: America’s First Ascent of Everest. Crown. 2013. 288p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307887146. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780307887160. REC

Coburn (Everest: Mountain Without Mercy) presents a compelling history of the expedition that reached Everest’s summit almost ten years after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s pioneering ascent. Coburn describes the motivation behind the expedition as a quest to realize the American Dream. Norman Dyhrenfurth assembled a team of excellent climbers and capable glaciologists, as well as scientists who conducted psychological and sociological research on the team (how human behavior is impacted by isolated conditions; the implications for long space missions). The Americans were ultimately successful, summitting six climbers and with two men completing the first traverse of Everest by a new route on the West Ridge. While fundraising for the expedition, Dyhrenfurth had proposed that a weather station could be installed on Everest’s summit. The U.S. government wasn’t interested in the weather but was interested in monitoring a Chinese nuclear test facility just north of the Himalayas­. American Everest veterans Barry Bishop, Lute Jerstad, Dave Dingman, Barry Prather, and Barry Corbet participated in installing sensors on Nanda Devi (unsuccessfully) and later Nanda Kot, which provided invaluable data for years. VERDICT Coburn brings this exciting chapter of American mountaineering history to life and will satisfy readers of adventure and mountaineering literature. —Margaret­ Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN

Hoyland, Graham. The Last Hours on Everest: The Gripping Story of Mallory & Irvine’s Fatal Ascent. Collins: HarperCollins. May 2013. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9780007455751. $26.99. REC

Sixty years ago this May, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit Mount Everest. But what of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine of the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition? Last seen as they made a final push for the top, they were never heard from or seen again until traces of them, culminating in Mallory’s sun-bleached corpse, were found decades later. Hoyland (producer & director, BBC), the 15th Briton to climb Everest, seeks to determine whether the charismatic Mallory, a Cambridge-educated schoolteacher and noted amateur mountaineer, and the younger, less experienced Irvine, may in fact have reached the summit and suffered a catastrophic twinned fall on their descent. Hoyland combines personal memoir, Everest history, and scientific investigation as he sets Everest in the context of the history of surveying, exploration, and mountaineering, and of imperial Britons seeking higher and higher peaks to ascend. He includes literary, scientific, and historical anecdotes, many charming, others poignant. Does he conclude that Mallory and Irvine made a full ascent, or that they fell before achieving the summit? VERDICT There have been other books on Mallory (e.g., Peter and Leni Gillman’s The Wildest Dream ) and the 1924 expedition (e.g., Wade Davis’s Into the Silence ), but Hoyland’s personal and professional involvement recommends this to all armchair and active adventurers. —Margaret­ Heilbrun, Library Journal

Little, Paul & Carolyne Meng-Yee. After Everest: Inside the Private World of Edmund Hillary. Allen & Unwin. Jun. 2013. 250p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781877505201. pap. $19.95. REC

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first men documented to summit Mount Everest, an accomplishment that has effectively outshone everything else that Hillary­ (1919–2008) undertook during his life. Little (journalist, Herald on Sunday North and South ) with journalist and researcher Meng-Yee, attempts to separate the Hillary mythology from the man, and to shine a light on Hillary’s life apart from mountaineering. Little’s stated goal is to give the reader a sense of Hillary’s full personality. The result is an entertaining portrait in which Little successfully avoids hagiography, no small feat when discussing a 20th-century icon. He does not hesitate to discuss the unsavory aspects of Hillary’s personality, for example in relation to the deaths of Hillary’s wife and daughter. Little presents a sympathetic but honest portrait of a man who allowed himself to become myopic in his grief and to subsequently let his surviving children down. VERDICT­ This engaging book is recommended to Everest hobbyists, as well as outdoor enthusiasts and casual nonfiction readers. —John Helling, Bloomfield-Eastern Greene Cty. P.L., IN

Library Journal Reviews starred review Lowe, George & Huw Lewis-Jones. The Conquest of Everest: Original Photographs from the Legendary First Ascent. Thames & Hudson, dist. by Norton. May 2013. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9780500544235. $39.95. REC

Lewis-Jones ( Arctic ) clarifies in his prolog that this book was originally intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1953 Everest ascent, but there were delays. The foreword by Edmund Hillary, a 2007 tribute to his friend George Lowe, is one of the last pieces Hillary wrote. Lowe was the expedition’s “cine cameraman.” This coffee-table book is not just a treasury of Lowe’s photographs; it introduces readers fully to this “forgotten man of Everest.” The bulk of the text is Lowe’s memoir of his life as it relates to that expedition, with “portfolios” of his photographs, many not previously published, between the chapters. Lowe, who was the last surviving member of the expedition (he died last month), writes of his first encounters with fellow New Zealander Hillary as they climbed together in the years before being chosen for the expedition: 13 men (plus “an army of Sherpa”) tasked with putting the two of them on the summit. A final chapter contains “Reflections” by others, including sons of Tenzing and of Hillary. Jan Morris, who as correspondent for theTimes was attached to the expedition, provides the epilog. VERDICT Essential for all Everest collections as one of the expedition’s last primary sources and a deserved testament to Lowe’s contributions. He proves himself, as Jan Morris puts it, “a man of sweet charm and courtesy.” —Margaret­
Library Journal

Nagrath, Sumati. Incredible Ascents to Everest: Celebrating 60 Years of the First Successful Ascent. Interlink. May 2013. 224p. photogs. ISBN 9781566569415. $30. REC

Mumbai-based journalist Nagrath looks at the various firsts that ascent of Everest has produced. After a historical introduction—with a photograph of George Everest himself—she presents a chapter on all pre-1953 expeditions. She makes use of many well-chosen historical photographs. Next she devotes a full chapter to Mallory and Irvine on the 1924 expedition: “Were They the First?” Following chapters on the Hillary-Tenzing partnership and on the Sherpa, crucial to most ascents, the bulk of the book is on others who can claim Everest firsts, from men who have skied down its slopes to the first woman to reach the top; the first climber to summit without oxygen; Tom Whittaker, who ascended with a prosthetic foot in 1998; the blind Erik Weihenmayer, who ascended in 2001; and Min Bahadur Sherchan, who was almost 77 when he summitted in 2005. Nagrath folds related accomplishments (e.g., first double amputee; oldest woman) into these chapters. She then briefly covers five tragic expeditions, followed by an 1841 to 2012 timeline. There is no index .VERDICT Nagrath, unlike e.g., Hoyland, above, is not a mountaineer; there are some small but telling errors of detail. Many of the photographs across the decades are thrilling. (NB: A couple of shots of Mallory show him, and a fellow climber, disrobed; a couple of others—including, oddly, the full title page—show dead climbers.) For general readers more than for Everest aficionados. —Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

Tuckey, Harriet. Everest: The First Ascent; How a Champion of Science Conquered the Mountain. Lyons: Globe Pequot. May 2013. 320p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780762791927. $25.95. REC

In this combination of biography and mountaineering history, Tuckey examines the life and work of her father, British physician Griffith Pugh, who was among the first scientists to undertake in-depth research on the physiological aspects of climbing, including acclimatization, oxygen use, and hypothermia. Pugh’s groundbreaking findings on the impact of extreme high altitude on human physiology were eventually put into practical use during the triumphant 1953 expedition that saw Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay make history as the first to summit Everest. However, Pugh’s essential role in this first conquest of Everest was largely downplayed at the time and is little known today. Now, in this illuminating and well-researched portrait of an eccentric, brilliant scientist, Tuckey demonstrates Pugh’s important contributions to the British success on Everest, while also openly addressing his faults and her own troubled relationship with him. VERDICT Best suited to general readers or researchers interested in Mount Everest, the history of mountaineering, or the origins of high-altitude medicine and modern sports science, who may also consider Edmund Hillary’s High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest . —Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI