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.

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