A History of Mountaineering in the Alps, by Claire Eliane Engel. 296 pages, 24 plates, with a foreword by F. S. Smythe and a bibliography of Alpine literature. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950. Price, $6.00.
Indefatigable Miss Engel describes a century and a half of ascents in the world’s richest climbing area. From the early pioneers we move to de Saussure and the story of the first Mont Blanc attempts and ascents; then on to the colorful “golden age” of Leslie Stephen, Whymper, Tyndall and Wills, and the early days of the Alpine Club of London. The description of this best-known part of Alpine history is perhaps the best section of the book, though as we reach the 1930’s there are graphic accounts of some of the terrific climbs made then on the Matterhorn and the Eiger. Among Miss Engel’s stories is one of de Saussure sitting at the foot of Mont Blanc and reading the Iliad as he waits for the weather to clear; in some respects mountaineering has changed little since the 18th century.
The author has some difficulty in organizing her very complex material. Among her subjects of discussion are famous guides, nationalism in mountaineering, and the literature of climbing; occasionally she introduces groups of quotations. Despite the size of the subject and the half-popular, half-historical approach, the material is well presented and the book is worth owning. The illustrations are pleasant, and the bibliography is very useful.
R. H. B.