The Mountain Library

The Mountain Library catalogued books on mountaineering; mountain travel, culture and fiction, as well as observations on other creativity inspired by high places. This was its website. The reviews  below are from 2011-2013 archieved pages.

The Mountain Library offers reading list on mountaineering, mountain travel, culture and fiction, and observations on other creativity inspired by high places. Their reading list resonates for those of us who dream of spending long days in the great mountain ranges of the world, and fill in the gaps between adventures with reading about them.

 

ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN LIBRARY RATINGS

★★★★★ 
An essential for your library – a classic of mountain literature 
★★★★
Excellent reading - not a classic but worthy of space in your bookshelf 
★★★
Worthwhile - borrow from a friend or public library 
★★
Of some value - hard work 

Not recommended

*Based on the following considerations: writing quality and style, historical value, significance in the mountain literature field, interest and enjoyment, the contribution it can make to your overall appreciation of mountains.

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REVIEWS

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One Mountain Thousand Summits – Freddie Wilkinson

The Mountain Library rating: ★★★★

Published: 2010

Reading style: medium

Images: yes (8 pages, b&w)

Lasting memory:

One Mountain Thousand Summits by Freddie Wilkinson is widely respected as ‘the climber’s’ account of the 2008 tragedy on K2 where eleven people perished in the worst single accident in the history of climbing on that mountain.

Wilkinson, a Mountain Hardwear athlete, certainly brings a climbers credibility to deciphering this complicated story, and a depth of perspective that was lacking in Graham Bowley’s treatment in No Way Down. To be fair, Bowley stated in his interview with The Mountain Library that he was an outsider to the mountaineering world and it was his clear intention to recreate the drama, to write a fast-paced thriller. One Mountain Thousand Summits is not a thriller. It’s a slower, more thoughtful account. By the nature of how Wilkinson rebuilds the story and places pieces of the puzzle together, it also becomes a deeply personal investigation into the tragedy, and to a degree, modern mountaineering itself.

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As Graham Bowley does in No Way Down, Wilkinson takes the hyper detailed, investigative approach throughout this lengthy 300-page account. But importantly what Wilkinson does better is focus on the  true protagonists – Sherpa climber’s Pemba Gyalje, Chhiring Dorje, Pasang Lama, and Tsering Bhote ( and posthumously, Pasang Bhote and Jumik Bhote). Through multiple interviews with these climbers (and others), analysis and critique of media coverage, and personal insight drawn from his investigations, the author recreates the events that took place that day with the most clarity. He adds value with generous historical context on the role of Sherpa’s and High Altitude Porters in western attempts on Himalayan peaks and commentary on the impact of race relations on the mountain that year.

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Among the Mountains: travels through Asia – Wilfred Thesiger

JUNE 20, 2011

by owenvcox

The Mountain Library rating: ★★

Published: 1998 (account documents travel between 1952 and 1965)

Reading style: medium

Images: yes (48 pages B&W)

Lasting memory:

Wilfred Thesiger opens Among the Mountains – travels through Asia, with a rather telling acknowledgement. “My original intention had been to produce a book of photographs I took in the Karakorams and the Hindu Kush between 1952 and 1965. I have never kept a diary with a view to publication.”

Unfortunately, especially for those familiar with his other great travel books, Thesiger’s biographer convinced him otherwise and instead of a travel classic, here we get one of the nastiest. As one Amazon reviewer describes it – ‘tedious, but informative’. With all the patience I could muster I managed 35 straight pages before I started skimming. And I kept on skimming until the end just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I’m now convinced I wasn’t. My advice, read only if your passion for detail is famous. Great photos though.

I leave you with this classic paragraph of diarised travel literature. Six animals and a goaty soup included.

“At Mahodand there were two lots of houses. I noticed a fair number of cows, some goats, small sturdy ponies and donkeys. There were few dogs. When I tried to buy a chicken for dinner, I was asked for two rupees for a very small one and so, instead I bought quite a large goat for fifteen rupees. We killed the goat by moonlight and with the help of pine flares cut it up…We made some good, if rather goaty, soup.

What the publisher says:

‘I felt an uplift of the spirit. Never had I seen such country.’ This was Thesiger’s reaction to his first sight of the snow-capped mountain ranges in Iraqi Kurdistan. The legendary explorer has always been attracted to mountains. In the course of thirty years he fulfilled his dreams of travelling in the awesome ranges of the Karakorams, the Hindu Kush and in Ladakh, visiting Chitral, where the people of the Black Kafir valley still worshipped pagan gods, and wild, untraveled Nuristan.

Drawing on his unpublished diaries Thesiger brilliantly documents the hardships, dangers and rewards of mountain travel. Each of his journeys has a unique quality, captured in some of the finest photographs he has ever taken – images of startling beauty, many of which are reproduced here for the first time.

‘Both the pleasure and pain of mountain travel are revealed through the eyes of one of the legendary explorers of our time.’ — Conde Nast Traveller

‘A matchless portrait of a vanished world.’  — Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph

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When I Find You Again It Will Be in Mountains – Chia Tao and Mike O’Connor

JANUARY 24, 2012

Published: 2000

Reading style: medium

Images: b&w photos and illustration

What the publisher says:

Selected Poems of Chia Tao (Jia Dao)

Chia Tao (779-843), an erstwhile Zen monk who became a poet during China’s Tang Dynasty, recorded the lives of the sages, masters, immortals, and hermits who helped establish the great spiritual tradition of Zen Buddhism in China.

Presented in both the original Chinese and Mike O’Connor’s beautifully crafted English translation, When I Find You Again, It Will Be in Mountains brings to life this preeminent poet and his glorious religious tradition, offering the fullest translation of Chia Tao’s poems to date.

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Thin Air: Encounters in the Himalayas – Greg Child

MARCH 29, 2012

The Mountain Library rating: ★★★★

Published:  1988
Reading style: medium
Images: B&W throughout

Lasting memory:

An engaging chronicle of Greg Child’s climbing experiences in the Garwhal Himalaya and Karakorum during the late 70s and 80s, covering three compelling peaks; Shivling, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum IV, and a host of mountaineering luminaries. Child’s genuine, character laden narrative is instantly accessible and takes little time to sweep you up into the drama of the moment. This is the reason why Child’s contribution to mountain literature is significant. Along with being one of the enduring survivors of the great game of big wall climbing and mountaineering, he is a similarly gifted storyteller. Like Postcards from the Ledge and Mixed Emotions, Thin Air strikes the perfect balance between detail and description, humour and on the edge of your seat drama . It’s often described as an inspiring story, to which I agree, albeit inspiring in a more subtle way than one of the true classics, such as Peter Boardman’s The Shining Mountain.

“The old Tibetan traders had named the place well, their words Kara meaning black, and koram meaning covered in earth. Even the sound of the word had a sharpness to it, like the broken rubble riding atop the snapping and crackling Baltoro Glacier, our destination in the Karakoram. “

A finalist for the 1988 Boardman Tasker Memorial Award.What the publisher says:

Climbing a Himalayan peak was the stuff of Greg Child’s wildest dreams. The in the late 1970s came a surprise berth on an expedition that was to define his career as a high-altitude mountaineer and transform his personality. A chronicle of his apprenticeship, Thin Air established Child as one of the great mountaineering writers of our time.

Thin Air is about the intensity of climbing “on the edge” day after day. It is about friendships and tragedies and the memories that linger for decades.  Filled with humour, irony, and pathos, Thin Air touches us with the beauty of the Baltoro Glacier’s landscape and encounters with the local people. It also paints portraits of legendary mountaineers Doug Scott, Don Whillans, Alan Rouse, and others.

Greg Child writes regularly for Climbing and other magazines. He is the author ofMixed Emotions and Postcards from the Ledge. A prolific climber, he has summited Everest and K2 and made many first ascents in the Himalayas.

“Nobody writes better about mountaineering than Greg Child. This is a funny, sometimes wrenching, extremely powerful book. I would recommend it to anyone.” — Jon Krakauer

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The Sound of Gravity – Joe Simpson

MARCH 18, 2012

The Mountain Library rating: ★★★★

Published: 2011
Reading style: easy
Images: no, fiction

Lasting memory:

The Sound of Gravity, Joe Simpson’s second attempt at a work of fiction, fails to satisfy with the strength we are accustomed to from his non-fiction catalogue. However, his latest book does raise its head above most in this paradoxically under-represented genre within the rich landscape of mountain literature.

On a bleak north face in winter, main character Patrick fails to stop the accidental death of his climbing and life partner. He is soon trapped in a terrifying storm, alone, and facing the prospect of a solo descent across difficult ground. His extraordinary escape leads not to renewal, but decades of being haunted by grief and loss until, at the story’s stomach churning climax, he is finally released from the mountain and the burden of bad memories.

This is a tale of two parts. Of the physical reality of struggling to save another’s life and your own, and the inner turmoil experienced after the battle has been won and lost. Surprisingly, given Simpson is one of the masters of climbing literature, I couldn’t find much to enjoy in Part One. It’s over explained and repetitive. Too much description tends to get boring and I can’t help but imagine the mental pain Simpson was going through as he extracted this drawn out storm sequence out of himself. It should have been shorter. Part two, however, is Simpson back on track. More flowing, elegant in parts, fulfilling. The plot becomes more romantic, but retains enough depth to preserve a level of intrigue that hits you firmly in the chest at the story’s climax, between a rock and some bullet proof ice.

The Sound of Gravity was shortlisted for the 2011 Boardman Tasker Prize.

What the publisher says:

As her hand slips from his grip, Patrick’s life is shattered, forever changed…

Trapped high on a stormbound mountain face in the icy depths of winter, a stricken young man is forced to fight for his life. Many years later, haunted by grief and guilt, Patrick is freed from his self-imposed vigil when at last the mountain releases his heartrending secret.

The Sound of Gravity is a harrowing, dramatic and powerful tale of how a haunting split-second memory can change the course of a lifetime – a novel of love, loss and redemption.

TheMountainLibrary.com