Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On the Edge, by Alison Levine

Alison Levine takes leadership training to new heights, using examples from her experience on Everest and other extreme environments, in On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership. She uses seemingly counter-intuitive advice, such as moving backward to make progress and practicing sleep deprivation, to make strong points for the things leaders should consider and act upon to better their skills. Her high-impact advice comes from her own efforts in the business world and natural world, as well the examples of great leaders of she has encountered. She writes on the premise that everyone is a leader and has a responsibility both to herself and her organization to practice the things that make great leaders, such as extraordinary preparation for challenges, compensating for weaknesses, building from failure, earning trust and loyalty, fostering healthy egos, and giving maximum effort. I like that she doesn't try to turn the book into the tale of her Seven Summits quest, but rather focuses on her biggest challenges that are most applicable to her points, including Everest, Carstenz Pyramid, and her South Pole journey.  

For Everest, she writes about both her experience in 2002 with the first American women's Everest expedition, and in 2010, when she reached the summit to honor the life of a close friend. Her 2002 trip, for which she was team captain, was ultimately turned back by bad weather at the South Summit, though she felt satisfied that she had had the entire "Everest experience," and was happy that the team got along so well and did everything in their power to reach the top. Eight years later, after many more mountains and a couple of Poles within her experience, she returned as a part of a commercial group to a frighteningly similar summit climb, with threatening weather and deep snow, causing many others to turn back. She compares the two styles of "teams," arguing that the climbers on the latter were not a team at all (as the members were not mutually supportive), regardless of what Merriam-Webster says. She also discusses in detail the speed ascent attempts by Chad Kellogg, and why he showed great leaderships qualities without having made the summit.

Levine writes an entertaining and compelling book. I appreciate the way she lifts up others with her examples, while keeping her bad apples anonymous. She gives at times hard advice, but backs it up with concrete examples. By showing what her non-stop, but intelligent work ethic can accomplish, she inspires others to follow. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Moving Mountains, by James Wilde

James Wilde discovers a passion for philanthropy while exploring the world's high points in Moving Mountains: How the dream to climb the Seven Summits transformed into the charity Global H2O. After climbing Kilimanjaro and growing attached to high places, Wilde quests for the other six continental high points while working some very impressive jobs around the world. His book documents his ten important climbs for his list and his charity, with two tries on Aconcagua and two on Everest, as well as some self-discovery on Cho Oyu. With the exception of his second Aconcagua climb (during which he led a team) and diminutive Kosciuszko, he sticks to guided climbs, learning quite a bit on Elbrus before getting some more serious training for his other ascents. His experience is more international than most English-language Seven Summits literature, because he speaks Russian and is comfortable with Russian outfitters for several of his climbs. His charity, Global H2O, develops from a sideline to an Everest climb to his primary fundraising focus before leaving to climb the world's highest mountain. His first projects, bringing safe drinking water to those who desperately need it through the digging of wells, inspire him to make the charity his life's passion. 

I enjoyed getting an inside view of Abramov's 7 Summits Club expeditions on Everest. According to Wilde, the organization has changed quite a bit between his two climbs, in 2005 and 2010. Abramov instituted new safety rules, increased the physical comforts he offers, and taken more of a leadership role (rather than an organizer or fixer) on the North side of Everest with the departure of Russell Brice to Nepal. Wilde turns back in 2005 after having doubts (and some understandable depression) and never quite fitting in with the Russians with whom ends up climbing high on the mountain. He still enjoys the company of many of his teammates, and ends up climbing with or near them on other mountains. He returns to the North side of Everest in 2010 with a determination to get the job done, especially after the emotional high of completing his first drilling project in Uganda.

The book is enjoyable and Wilde's philanthropy is laudable. He mentions a side trip to Khumjung while in the Khumbu region, visiting the first school built by Edmund Hillary. Here's hoping Wilde's success in Africa is every bit as effective Hillary's efforts in Nepal!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Man Versus Mountain: Mount Everest, by Bonnie Hinman

Bonnie Hinman provides an updated introduction for young readers to the world's highest mountain in Man Versus Mountain: Mount Everest. She focuses on the climbing of the mountain and its history, with some additional information on the surrounding natural, political, and cultural geography, as well as a section on Himalayan legends. Hillary and Tenzing take center stage in the book, followed by Mallory and the early attempts. There is (comparatively) quite a bit about modern climbing of Everest and its troubles, covering the 1996, 2006, and 2012 climbing seasons. Hinman keeps the information interesting while writing intelligently and pretty accurately. I appreciated her notations, as well as the long list of resources at the back. Photographs were my only hang-up, as Ama Dablam (page 5) and K2 (page 40) stand in for Everest. The format is pleasing, however, with chapters on focused topics, concluded by asides on related information.

I feel I must apologize once again for my vitriol in defending false information. George Everest did sight (or at least recorded his sighting) the peak that bears his name, even if he did not recognize it at the time as the world's highest mountain. I worry that my declarations to the opposite might have had something to do with page 15's: "Some historians think Everest may never have seen in person the mountain that was named after him." So many of the things I tend to whine about regarding Everest's juvenile literature are right on in Hinman's book, such as her explanation of the thin air at the summit, that I worry that I might have violated some sort of Prime Directive for the observation of literature. C'est la vie!

Monday, March 3, 2014

George Mallory, by David Robertson

David Robertson writes a personal, but limited biography of the early Man of Everest in George Mallory. Robertson had unprecedented access to Mallory's (and many others') personal papers, and he released, in 1969, a ground-breaking look into the person behind the hero of 1924. Though several biographies have since surpassed Robertson's work in detail, both in Mallory's career and personal details (See Gillman's The Wildest Dream or Green's Because It's There for examples.), none provide the reader (including Pye's George Leigh Mallory) with such a wealth and variety of first-person sources. Robertson's book contains almost as many quotes from letters and diaries as it does narrative, and he reveals Mallory in a delightful and charming manner, fit for a relative of a great man. Robertson's family connection is likely why he glosses over personal details than later biographers would wallow in (See Unsworth's Everest: The Mountaineering History.) or explain away (See Hoyland's Last Hours on Everest.). I also found it frustrating (or perhaps interesting) that Robertson often does not go into details about Mallory's family life, but rather discusses his time spent away from his family, such as his climbs in the Alps or on Everest, most of all.

Robertson's details on Everest are by now the standard canon. So much was new at the time, such as the details of trip to America, or his forgetfulness in Tibet, or even his difficult decision to go back to Everest in 1924. His American tour actually gets more attention here than in any other biography yet written, and Robertson includes some quotes from papers prepared from lectures and some letters that are not quoted elsewhere. Beyond that, only Robertson's perspective and opinion is unique, with his argument that Mallory sought to be a member of the 1924 oxygen party as a measure to safeguard all of the climbers' descent, and that he chose Irvine as a companion, because there was no one else with as much experience to pair with the relatively well-acclimatized, but novice climber. Robertson writes an excellent book, and a fitting tribute to one of Everest's greatest climbers.