Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great Adventures with National Geographic, edited by Melville Grosvenor

Melville Bell Grosvenor presents a collection of National Geographic's most exciting stories, circa 1963, in Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky. The book, written during the United States' space age, is especially focused on the intertwining of technology and geography, with people riding automobiles (circa 1930) across Asia or into the Gobi, using fancy cameras to observe insects, building a station at the South Pole, flying in planes and rockets, or diving with aqualungs, bathyspheres, or submarines. It seems a bit as if the classic adventure, such as Peary's dog sledding to the North Pole (even that story focuses on his fancy boat) or Roosevelt's journey into the Amazon, has gone out of style, and something much more exciting has arrived (like space flight). Regardless, there are a number of grand expeditions here, including Fuch's crossing of Antarctica, flying from Britain to Australia (1930s), reaching the bottom of the Mariana Trench, circling the globe without surfacing in a submarine, and crossing North America in an airship, to name only a few.

Regarding Everest, Edmund Hillary presents an original description of his summit climb for National Geographic audiences, and Grosvenor effuses over the success of the recent American expedition. Hillary's narrative covers his arrival at the South Col (second time) through his descent to the Cwm. He's more frank here than similar descriptions, such as writing of his frustration at the illness of Pemba or describing the dangerous snow conditions as they near the South Summit. I'm not a huge fan of it, overall, but it provides more factual information than either his official account contribution in The Ascent of Everest or his later narrative in High Adventure. Grosvenor is very excited by the Americans' success on Everest in 1963, including his own staffer, Barry Bishop, reaching the summit with the National Geographic flag. Though no narrative of the climb appears here, Grosvenor features the climb in his introduction, as well as in his prelude for the mountain section. Also of interest for Everest aficionados, Joseph Rock presents a narrative of his two expeditions to the mountains of western China, from which he gathered that he set eyes on the world's true highest mountain, Minya Konka, later proven to be much shorter than Everest and climbed by an American party. 

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