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Coronation Everest

Coronation Everest, by James Morris. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1958. 145 pages; ills. Price $3.75.

What, another Everest book? Yes, and a good one, too! In fact, one of the most readable of all. Although James Morris didn’t climb the mountain—not even to the South Col—he nevertheless saw as much as anyone, except the very highest climbers, of what went on. He was the special correspondent of The Times, and it was his job to give the British public, interested as never before in a mountain-climb, as prompt an account as possible of the progress of the Expedition. Above all, it was his job to see that The Times should be the first to print the news of the final outcome. This book is the story of how he accomplished his mission.

It was not an easy task. In the first place James had never been on a big mountain before and at times he had to operate under conditions of extreme fatigue. Yet no matter how exhausted he was he never failed to turn out his copy and, through the faithful performance of his carefully chosen Sherpa runners, get it to Katmandu and thence to London. A feeling of movement and urgency runs throughout the book. Even while he enlivens the narrative with sprightly episodes and vivid touches of scenery, and with quick characterizations of the climbers and Sherpas, he always keeps the story moving.

While Coronation Everest presents us with a lively review of the whole Everest story, it is not for that alone that we find it an indispensable addition to the saga. Its main theme, after all, is the method by which the news of the spectacular success was sped to London by an almost incredible combination of ingenious planning, cunning contrivance, bold execution—and a seasoning of good luck. The correspondents of other papers, Indian as well as British, were striving and scheming to be the first to get the news. And when at last it came—by radio from Namche Bazar to Katmandu— the correspondents to a man fell for Morris’ despatch: Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement. Decoded, this message reached England on the eve of the Coronation as: "Summit of Everest reached on May 29 by Hillary and Tenzing.”

Francis P. Farquhar