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Les Alpinistes Célébres

Les Alpinistes Célébres by Henry de Ségogne and Jean Couzy. Paris: Editions d’Art Lucien Mazenod, 1956. 416 pages; 221 plates (8 in color). Price 6200 Fr. francs (approx. $18.00).

In vast conception and noteworthy execution, the editors and 71 collaborators have compiled a volume, half of which consists of 81 biographies of famous mountaineers, few of whom are now living, interspersed with sections on Alpine history. This is followed by chapters dealing with the conquest of peaks outside the Alps, and a summary of important first ascents and routes. The index refers to a total of 3200 climbers, with a further index of 1560 peaks. The result is as if the far earlier work of Cunningham and Abney, "The Pioneers of the Alps" (1887), had been expanded into a Who's Who of global mountaineering.

In such an immense task the editors are limited in the selection of what shall be included. The larger biographies are well chosen, but one wonders why such figures as Martin Conway, J. P. Farrar, E. Fontaine, E. F. Norton, Achille Ratti, and the Workmans are not among them. The text is divided under such headings as: Forerunners; Literary and Scientific Alpinists; Alpinism as a new aspect of Humanism; First Guides; Founders of Sporting Mountaineering; Guideless Climbing; Mountaineering beyond the Alps. As one might expect in any attempt to cover the entire world, there are errors in the spelling of place and personal names, and in several cases, of historical fact. It is the magnificence of the full page plates that impresses one, particularly the excellent portraits of the early climbers. The illustrations include the triptych carried by Rotariod' Asti to the summit of Rochemelon in 1358, the 16th-century woodcut of Mont Aiguille, and the inspired portrait of Conrad Gesner by Tobias Stimmer. The youngest mountaineer in the formal biographies is Georg Winkler, who died on the Weisshorn in 1889 at the age of 19, and whose body was recovered during the past summer. It is curious that several, Mummery and Zsigmondy among them, who met early death on the peaks, stressed in their writing the dangers of our sport.

J. Monroe Thorington