Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the Farthest Ends of the Earth, by Ian Cameron

To the Farthest Ends of the Earth, by Ian Cameron celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Royal Geographical Society with a telling of its history. It's a lot of information to cover, and Cameron chooses to focus on the larger ventures that the society sponsored or supported, including the search for the Northwest Passage, the crossing of Australia, the search for the source of the Nile, Polar Exploration, the Mount Everest expeditions, and some modern expeditions. He shows that the society got much of its spirit and focus from the influence of some of its long-serving directors and secretaries, such as John Barrow, Arthur Hinks, or John Murchison. The tales of the expeditions are told in broad outline, but Cameron is specific in the roles played by the society in each, such as material support, training, awarding a medal after the fact, or publishing expedition maps or accounts. I felt like the founding of the society got short shrift in this book, with Cameron discussing the society growing out of the Ramblers Club and speaking of the founding members, but not really getting into the driving forces of the decline of the Admiralty during peacetime and the change of government that dried up much of the public funding for such adventures. The other non-Everest sections were good outlines, and make for good teasers if you're looking for something exciting to read about, but you're not sure what. The expeditions to search for the Northwest Passage were generally quite painful yet heroic sounding, and many of the trips to the interior of Australia sounded harrowing. I also enjoyed reading about what the Royal Geographical Society was up to in the recent past in the section that brings the reader up to date (the book was published in 1980).

The Everest chapter presents a broad outline of the history of surveying and climbing the mountain, from Sir George Everest's Great Meridian to the 1953 ascent of the mountain. The information in it is mostly good, but there were occasional factual errors and a couple mislabeled photographs. I hope that the sections on other topics were better off, but I'm less familiar with the subjects, and can't say. I appreciated Cameron's digging in the archives to publish some less-known photographs from Everest's history, such as a picture of Makalu from the South Col and a photo by Edmund Hillary of the Khumbu Glacier, Pumori, and Everest beyond. He touches on the messy business of expedition leadership through the Everest Committee (and Himalayan Committee), but I think that you get a much clearer picture of the Royal Geographical Society's perspective on the Everest expeditions from Walt Unsworth's Everest: The Mountaineering History. Cameron's work is notable for connecting early exploratory expeditions in the region as well as the travels of pundits to the eventual full-scale expeditions. Hope you enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment