The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race To Summit the Himalayas

Little, Brown. Feb. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780316434867. $30. SPORTS
Ellsworth (The Secret Game) writes a comprehensive introduction to high-altitude mountaineering, from the interwar period through the early 1950s, when the first 8,000 meter mountains (Annapurna, Everest, and Nanga Parbat) were summited. The background of each expedition is enhanced with intertwining cultural and society events, from the influence of Nazism in Europe to India’s push for independence. After the large expeditions of the 1920s, later ones became smaller, though remained a source of national pride. Though some expeditions are thoroughly detailed elsewhere, their inclusion here places them in the wider exploration and spirit of the era. The people, dangers, triumphs, and tragedies are exquisitely detailed, though the crux is in the details and emotion of the lesser-known expeditions that contributed to later climbers reaching the summits. These include the summit of Minya Konka in China, an audacious solo attempt on Everest, and numerous climbs throughout the Himalayas and Karakoram. A helpful appendix details important figures in the sport as well as expeditions and climbing terms.
VERDICT An excellent overview of mountaineering and exploration in the Himalayas and Karakoram, set against the backdrop of 20th-century history, that will appeal to mountaineers and armchair adventurers.

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