Monday, November 29, 2010

Mallory, the Swiss, and three for the kids

I finished Dudley Green's Because It's There, I read the Swiss Foundation for Research's The Swiss Expeditions in Photographs, and I reviewed three children's books: Joy Masoff's Everest: Reaching for the Sky, Scott Werther's Jon Krakauer's Adventure on Mt. Everest, and Mount Everest, by Sarah De Capua.

Dudley Green puts together a masterwork in his Because It's There: The Life of George Mallory. This book is a reworking and expansion of his 1991 Mallory of Everest, spurned by the discovery of Mallory's body in 1999 and a return of interest in Mallory's story. Green quotes first-person sources at length, and draws together a range of perspectives to bring back the spirit and drive of the man of Everest. Refreshingly, Green gives fair space to Mallory's life before Everest, and I've learned a lot about him that other biographers generally ignore, such as his passion for education reform and his devotion to the League of Nations. I especially enjoyed reading details of Mallory's tour of the northeast United States, since I knew little about the tour besides his famous quote to the New York Times. 

The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research released Everest: The Swiss Expeditions in Photographs soon after the success of the British. There's not much to the prose; it gives a brief history of sanctioned attempts on Mount Everest, and also reminds the English-speaking reader that the Swiss had uncharted territory to climb, and that they provided the British with invaluable information about the route, logistics, and acclimatization. The photos are well-taken and printed, so the book is a lasting contribution. There is an amazingly clear shot of the Everest-Lhotse-Nuptse massif taken from Pumori that made a lasting impression on me. Also, the shots of their rope bridge crevasse crossings are not to be missed.

Joy Masoff's Everest: Reaching for the Sky is decent retelling of Edmund Hillary's and Tenzing Norgay's summit of Mount Everest. Like other children's books, Reaching for the Sky focuses on the two "heroes" of the 1953 British expedition. Masoff keeps details simple and does a good job of explaining mountain-specific terminology. She occasionally oversimplifies things, and there's one funny editing job where Hillary tells George Lowe that they "knocked the mountain off." (Perhaps she should have just left that quote out, rather than changing out the "bastard.") I appreciate her acknowledgment that the work Hillary and Tenzing did after climbing Mount Everest was what made them true heroes.

Scott Werther writes a disturbing book for children in his Jon Krakauer's Adventure on Mt. Everest. Could be worse, I suppose; I noticed that there's another book in this Survivor series on the Donner Party! Yum! Of all places, it's in this book that I noticed juvenile literature's war of monikers for Tenzing Norgay; either he is Hillary's "guide" or he is Hillary's "climbing assistant" (as here) or worse yet simply "his Sherpa." While "guide" is perhaps the most accurate of these choices, since he had been high Southeast Shoulder before, none of them accurately convey the relationship between these two men. Werther gets the details right on Krakauer's climb, and luckily for the kids, he leaves out a lot of the gruesome details of the disaster. Even so, there is a lot of death in this book for elementary school kids.

Sarah De Capua gives us a good book for beginning readers in Mount Everest. The information is very basic and accurate (except perhaps the illustration of the zopkio as an animal that lives "on" Everest). De Capua is in the Norgay "Sherpa guide" camp, in case you're interested.

Next time, an early memoir that gives a little too much information, and perhaps an illegal attempt!

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