To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
In Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind, he sets out to explain what drives people to the mountains in their droves, and especially what drives those who are prepared to risk their lives in pursuit of a particular summit.
The premise of this book is, potentially, a difficult one. It's one thing to be a lover of the mountains and just 'get' what it's like being amongst the peaks, but it's entirely another to try to explain that over the full length of a book. Hence the mix of climbing history, geology, personal memoir and religion which makes up 'Mountains of the Mind', subtitled 'A History of a Fascination'.
I must admit that when I bought this book I missed the subtitle*, so I probably went into this read on the wrong foot. I was expecting (and looking for) a travelogue that would sweep me back up amongst the mountain peaks in this tiresome year of non-travel, but if I'd read the full title properly I'd have realised that this is more of a history of mountain attraction. Some of the history had me riveted (for example the chapter on Mallory's fatal attraction to Everest), but in other places I feel he got too caught up in trying to give a fully comprehensive chronological account of British climbing development. In my mind that's a different book, and I would have loved if he'd spent a little less time back in the 1700s and focused more on modern climbing. For example, what drives 20,000 people - many of them inexperienced tourists - to climb Mont Blanc every year, despite helicopters lifting on average a body a day from the peaks above Chamonix in climbing season?
That said, Macfarlane is both an explorer himself and a talented wielder of the pen, and overall I really enjoyed this book. When he wasn't bogged down in the extensiveness of his own research, Macfarlane's knowledge and passion for the mountains is translated into wonderful writing that brings you shivering to the edge of many a snowy precipice. His own climbing adventures were fascinating - in fact, I'd have loved to have seen more of those memoirs in place of some of the historical detail.
Despite my niggles (and again, my fault for going in with the wrong expectation), this book did teleport me back to the mountains for a few days, and has left me with a hunger for some further mountain reading.
* In my defence this book seems to have a number of editions, many of which have 'adventures in reaching the summit' as the subtitle, which is closer to what I was expecting.
As ever, Robert McFarlane's writing is beautiful and stimulating. I had not realised that he was a climber so this book combines two of his passions, climbing and wild places and a third, which I have now discovered is George Mallory, Another reviewer, Sarah O'Toole summed up my feelings about this book better than I can "His use of language to bring me into regions explored, read about and imagined often took my breath away, engaging all the senses and making me wonder what these marvels would be like to experience first hand." - I could never have climbed but I now feel I understand much Excellent.
First thing to say is that this book is billed as a 'history of mountaineering' in some of the spiel on the cover, which is totally misleading. It would be much more accurate to call it a cultural history of the role of mountains and mountaineering in Western Europe, and even that description wouldn't really inform anyone about the sort of thing to expect.
The book ranges from scholarly examinations of how various literary luminaries reacted to and thought about mountains, to geology and natural history, to highly personal accounts of expeditions McFarlane has taken part in, interwoven with some thrilling tales of first ascents, desperate rescues, and the like. As a whole, it does hold together well, and some of the source material he uses from past writers is really interesting. McFarlane's literary background shines through as he elucidates on Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Goethe's responses to the Alps, as well as more expected Naturalists and travellers' accounts, before a final lengthy chapter where he recounts George Mallory's doomed attempts on Everest in the 1920s in the light of what he's already explained about mountains in the Western imagination.
If you're looking for a book about mountaineering, or some thrilling tales of derring do, there are better books than this. If you've already read a lot of those, though, and you want a more thoughtful book which really wrestles with the questions of what is so special about mountains and why are people driven to risk their lives climbing them, then this is a unique and fascinating read. I'm probably being harsh giving 4 rather than 5 stars, but I felt, if anything, that some sections felt a little light and the writer would have benefited from a bit more length to really build on some points. I'd have gladly have read another hundred pages.
Not entirely what I was expecting (my ignorance) but an enlightening and enriching view nonetheless - interesting to see the clear line to the original discovery of the mountains with how we / I perceive them now.
The only sad note was the Everest chapter - which I felt concluded falsely without the author exploring how he felt about Mallory and what became him. Anybody with an adventurous spirit can’t help but share a note of sympathy, and perhaps scary acknowledgement of what they might do in similar circumstances.
A great read, this mixes a history of how Mountains were perceived (from dark, dangerous places frequented by monsters to places of leisure and relaxation) throughout history and a story of mountaineering, culminating in a fairly extensive section about Mallory and his attempts on Everest.
I'm a keen skier and love mountains generally (although a fear of heights means climbing's never going to be for me!) and I really enjoyed this book, even though it seemed a bit of a jumbled collection of mountain-related writings to an extent.
I stumbled across this book and the excellent reviews from other customers made me decide to purchase and i am so glad that i did. This is a fantastic book which gives the reader an overview of mountaineering history and how our view of these fantastic places has changed over the centuries from places that were feared to a place that spiritually lifted the explorer. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Mallory and his attempts to risk everything in order that he could be the first to climb Everest. Great book if you have any interest in the outdoors/exploration.
The title is straightforward: this book is real brilliant at times and gets almost boring now and then. But don't get me wrong: the brilliant and (very) erudite by Macfarlane is well worth reading. An epic account of the Everest reconnaissances and expeditions, the history of the beginning of mountaineering... The only downside; the propensity of the author to drift from the subject at times and an overload of litterary quotes.
Fascinating history of man's relationship with the mountains and his motivation for climbing them. The final chapter relating the story of Mallory and Everest is slightly out of kilter with the ret of the book but interesting nonetheless.
A fascinating read about the Western fascination with mountains and mountain-climbing over the last 400 years. Some of the stories are thoroughly eye-watering and vertigo-inducing so I shall remain an armchair enthusiast!