Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Highest Mountain, by Kris Hirschmann

Kris Hirschmann writes a book for kids about Mount Everest and its environment in The Highest Mountain. The book is one volume in Kidhaven Press' Extreme Places Series, including the deepest lake, the longest bridge, and the longest river. The author wisely picks a few topics and goes into detail rather than writing a general book. The four topics include the geography of Everest and its surrounding area, the history of surveying the peak, a short history of climbing the peak, and the environmental degradation and recent conservation efforts.The information in the geography section is quite good, though the author uses a rather nebulous definition for Mount Everest, including describing wildlife that resides below 5,000 feet elevation, which would be quite far away. I also found the surveying section well-written, even describing the trouble of accurately describing sea level. Some information was oversimplified, but nothing too bad. The environmental section properly identifies the issues with waste and deforestation and talks about them quite well, but overlooks climate change. It is difficult to talk about intelligibly with children, but it is certainly having an impact on Everest and its environs.

Now for the climbing! The climbing history of Mount Everest is somewhat more disappointing than the other sections of the book. Though there was only occasional wackiness in the survey chapter, the climbing history gets messy at times. A 2003 book should not say that Mallory and Irvine's bodies were never found. There were decidedly more than five camps in the 1953 expedition, and though Tenzing and Hillary waded through deep snow on the upper Southeast Ridge, I wouldn't go so far as to say they continually dug themselves out of snow pits nor were they lucky enough to drink gallons of hot tea at their top camp (more likely measurable in quarts, and it was lemon drink). The Chinese did not follow the same route as the first ascent. After a mention of the 1965 Indian expedition, the rest of the climbing history is lumped into generalities. In general in this book, do not trust the photo captions. They switch Everest and Nuptse (Notably, the cover is a picture of Nuptse, with Everest cut out of the photo.), state that the 1922 expedition only made it to 22,000 feet, call the 1953 expedition the "Hillary Expedition," gives a location for a photo as "at the Solu-Khumbu trek," and shows a "satellite" image of a climber in profile crossing an aluminum ladder at the top of the Khumbu Icefall, taken from 50 feet away. As long as you don't need accurate information about climbing the mountain or need accurate photo descriptions, this is a decent book. It's certainly not my favorite, but it should be useful for the other three topics it covers besides climbing.

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