Into the Silence

Knopf. Oct. 2011. 672p. ISBN 9780375408892. $35; eISBN 9780307700568. CD: Random Audio.
A celebrated anthropologist who's currently National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Davis details Great Britain's protracted efforts to scale Mount Everest, which he traces back to 19th-century imperial ambitions and the huge sense of loss following World War I. Everest always fascinates, and this is about more than climbing; with a 75,000-copy first printing and a six-city tour.
In 1924, British climbers George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine, as part of that year's British Mount Everest Expedition, disappeared as they attempted to be the first climbers ever to reach the summit. The mystery of their fate has long haunted the mountaineering world, with many books on the topic. Few can compare to the sheer scope and depth here. Anthropologist Davis (National Geographic explorer-in-residence) moves beyond mountaineering history to delve into the history of British involvement in the Himalayas and the backgrounds of the many players in the British quest to conquer Everest. Davis focuses on the importance of World War I in shaping the worldviews of the expedition members and their backers. Describing in harrowing detail the wartime experiences of many of the climbers, Davis uses the Everest quest as a prism through which to examine the vast changes wrought by the war.
VERDICT While well written, meticulously researched, and full of gripping descriptions, this work may overwhelm some readers with its epic scope. Best suited to serious readers and scholars interested in World War I, the British Empire in Asia, and mountaineering history. Those seeking a more biographical focus may consider Peter and Leni Gillman's The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory. [See Prepub Alert, 4/4/11.]—Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI

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