Thursday, March 29, 2012

Last Climb, by Breashears & Salkeld

David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld retell an update the story of George Mallory's three expeditions to Mount Everest in Last Climb. It's a beautiful book, published soon after the discovery of Mallory's body, with many seldom-seen photographs from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society to go alongside the text. Salkeld has long been associated with the Everest archives through her research, and she adds a scholarly flair to telling of Mallory's great adventure. Breashears, through his knowledge of Everest and climbing, adds a realist's view to what occurred (or might have) on Mallory's climbs, and his cinematic background helps him to focus on what matters in the story lines. The book covers Mallory's life, with a short section on his early life, but focuses on his role on Mount Everest. There are several revelations in the book, such as the short section of the Rimpoche of Rongbuk's spiritual memoir found in a later travel diary of Crawford, the "other" photograph taken by Howard Somervell on his amazing climb in 1924, and a full-frontal nude of the Man of Everest. The narrative is pretty accurate for the time it was written, but I feel like Wade Davis, in Into the Silence, has since raised the bar on research for these early expeditions.

Of the many books I've read on Mallory following the discovery of his body, I think I like this one the most. It focuses on Mallory and his spirit, rather than being another telling of how his corpse was found. The re-analysis of Mallory's prospects on his final climb are realistic and thorough (though I personally tend to be irrationally hopeful), and the narrative of his body's discovery is appropriate for all but the most sensitive audiences. The photography makes the book for me. Though there are several well-trodden photographs, the authors included many that have lain in the archives too long, including a set of fold-out panoramas at the beginning of the book. Hope you like it!

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