Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Psycho-Spiritual Extreme, the World as Everest, and Tigers!

I bring three books to you today: Maria Coffey's Explorers of the Infinite, and two for the kids: Rebecca Stephens' Everest and Aileen Weintraub's Mount Everest. 

Maria Coffey is certainly the most prolific of the Everest widows (Joe Tasker's lover), and compared with her first two books about Everest and mountaineering, Explorers of the Infinite left me wanting. The book covers the taboo subject of paranormal experiences associated with extreme sports. She covers anything from spouses presupposing their partner's death to strange manifestations following a climber down a mountain. In both her Fragile Edge and Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, Coffey provides a thorough analysis of climbers and their actions; Explorers, however, gives us numerous examples of her subject, but leaves much of the analysis to the reader. Understandably, she has picked a difficult subject and a difficult topic for a professional to take a public stance on. In the other two books mentioned, though, she takes the difficult stance and does a great job of supporting her conclusions. She makes sure to provide a range of explanations for these fantastic occurrences, both scientific and spiritual, and she gives each fair space. I decided to include this book in my reading because she interviews or references an All-Star Everest cast, including Doug Scott, Lou Whittaker, the Burgess twins, Eric Shipton, and many others, and discusses several incidents that occurred on Everest, including Smythe's companion at 28,000 feet, Somervelle's dream about his physical limits, and Nick Estcourt's fellow climber on the Southwest Face. Even if I found it a bit frustrating, I recommend this book! 

Rebecca Stephens' Everest would lead you to believe that it's a book about Everest, but perhaps the concept of Everest could be extended worldwide to mean high places, in general. There are four pages specifically about the mountain that cover the 1924 and the 1953 expeditions, a double-page spread on the Seven Summits, and a couple other mentions of Everest here and there, but this book seems to be more of a gazette on anything that sticks up out of the ground and has people or animals crawling on it, including sections on the Incas, the Winter Olympics, mountain religions, and houses built on rocks. The information presented is all pretty good and there are a range of illustrations, but both the material and the presentation lack focus.

Aileen Weintraub's Mount Everest: The Highest Mountain is yet another hastily assembled and half-true children's book on the the world's highest mountain. It contains a mix of good and bad information on Everest, and is perhaps notable for several squirrel-y explanations of facts, such as "Mount Everest is so big that half of it is in Nepal and half of it is in Tibet." Additionally, Tigers roam Everest's slopes. This book is so close to being a good book, but on nearly every page there is some fact that starts off well but then gets twisted in such a way as to be technically wrong. Weintraub speaks briefly on Mallory and Irvine and mentions the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition and also acknowledges the efforts of Hillary and Tenzing. The rest of the information is general information about the mountain and its environs, including pages on the Sherpas, nature, and weather, among other topics.

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