Friday, October 19, 2012

The Epics of Everest, by Leonard Wibberley

Leonard Wibberley hams up the drama of the early Everest expeditions in The Epics of Everest.  I finally figured out the book that everyone keeps talking about, when they say that people shouldn't write about declaring war upon or conquering a mountain. He establishes his army against Everest in Chapter 1 and keeps the metaphor going for a good part of the book. He out-dramatizes even Francis Younghusband (which is hard to do!), though he lacks much of Younghusband's romance and passion. (See Younghusband's The Epic of Everest.) Considering that Wibberley wrote the book while living in Hermosa Beach, California without having visited the Himalaya or even climbing a serious mountain, he does a pretty good job of describing both the landscape and the difficulties of climbing Everest (such as breathing in the rarefied air). It's pretty clear that he got his information on the expeditions from the official account books, as his storyline follows them pretty closely. Correspondingly, his facts on the 1953 expedition are sparse, since he wrote the book in 1953, and had no official book to condense.

Wibberley's a good reader and disciple of the Everest literature up to his time, but he adds superlative to a lot of the facts. He also states opinions that make him sound extraordinarily dated, such as climbing Everest without oxygen is impossible, the West Ridge will never be climbed, the Northeast Ridge will never be climbed, small parties have no chance on Everest, and several others. He gets most of the facts right in the history of Everest, and the book is a fairly good condensed version of the attempts of the 1920s and 1930s. Epics does not recognize Earl Denman's attempt upon the north side in 1947 in its history, but his and Denman's book (Alone to Everest) were published concurrently. There are many more up-to-date histories of climbing Everest, including some that are better-written; I'd recommend Roberto Mantovani's Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant for a book directed towards similar audiences, though I wouldn't turn away from Wibberley's book if it's what's available.

This is a revision and expansion of an earlier review, which begins here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. But I confess tha I am emotionaly connected to this book. I used this book to start learning English late 1980s. This book was 24. Hours with me. No special reason, but it fit in my back pocket, so I bought it. Nice to read your review and travel back to 1980s. Good memories. Best, Ney Vasconcellos. 22/April/2016