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Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant

Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant. Roberto Mantovani. Introduction by Kurt Diemberger. Mountaineers Books: Seattle, 1997. 143 pages. Hardback, large format, with numerous historical images and color photographs. $35.00

If you enjoyed Walt Unsworth’s Everest, but were left craving for sumptuous color photos of Chomolungma and her various climbs, this is your book. The quality and prodigious numbers of these Italian-printed pictures (some in sepia, others hand-colored, many not seen before) are of impeccably high quality. And for once, a sensitive, skillfully written text matches the awe-inspiring imagery. Roberto Mantovani obviously has done his homework, and leads us capably through the stages of Everest’s development. From the India surveys of the mid-19th century to Mallory and Irvine in 1924, Hillary and Tenzing in ’53, Hornbein and Unsoeld in ’63, Messner and Habeler in ’78, and Loretan and Troillet in ’86, the whole colorful cast of characters is here, driven upward by ego, fame, and desire, and struck down callously by high-altitude edema, capricious storms, and disastrous fate. To these many tales, Kurt Diemberger adds a cautionary and typically heartfelt introduction.

This stylish book is a joy to read and browse. It also will inspire dreams of treading the cold, snowy heights, especially while sitting in a warm, cozy armchair. The book’s only noticeable shortcoming is in the otherwise useful expedition-by-expedition compendium, “All the Ascents,” where, regrettably, several photo captions don’t match the photos. (Other captions and photos are switched on pages 81, 88, 89, and 139.) On page 29, the upper portion of the Messner Route is marked wrong. On pages 30 and 31, our 1988 Kangshung Pace route is marked incorrectly and an accompanying photo and caption is switched. Furthermore, our climb was an International expedition, not a British-led effort, it does end on the South Col (not near it), and Stephen Venables had three companions on his ascent, not two, an unfortunate mistake Diemberger also perpetuates.

Additionally, the famous ice axe was Irvine’s (a little known, yet verified fact), and the book concludes with “The Chaos of the Last Seasons,” a chapter chronicling the tangled web of recent “guided expeditions” and the 1996 tragedy.

Ed Webster