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George Mallory

George Mallory, by David Robertson. London: Faber and Faber, 1969. 279 pages, 17 pages of photographs, 3 maps and two sketch maps.

“Mon dieu! – George Mallory …he’s six foot high, with the body of an athlete by Praxiteles, and a face – oh incredible – the mystery of a Botticelli, the refinement and delicacy of a Chinese print.” So Lytton Strachey wrote on meeting Mallory, of course long before he became the best known mountain climber in the English speaking world. Forthright, bold and introspective, Mallory is best known to most of us for his part in the expeditions to Everest of 1921, 1922 and 1924, and for his incisive comments on the mountaineering instinct.

In George Mallory the man behind the legend comes through clearly, mainly through an extraordinary sequence of letters to family and friends from age ten until the day before his disappearance above Camp VIII on Everest in 1924. Many of the letters have special interest. They show his love of challenge, his friendship at Cambridge with Rupert Brooke, Geoffrey Keynes, James Strachey and others. His friendship for Geoffrey Winthrop Young was very close, and among the letters is one from Young warning Mallory that “.…your weakness, if any, is that you do let yourself get carried away on occasions in the mountains …” Significant also is a later letter, where Mallory tells Young of some of his writing, “an attempt to treat an expedition as a spiritual experience.” In George Mallory, the flavor of the man evolves with crispness, accuracy, and possibly in places with too much detail. Incidentally, the cover picture is especially striking. David Robertson deserves high praise for adding significantly to our knowledge of the most famous of English climbers.

Robert H. Bates