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The Quotable Climber: Literary, Humorous, Inspirational, and Fearful Moments in Climbing

The Quotable Climber: Literary, Humorous, Inspirational, and Fearful Moments in Climbing. Edited by Jonathan Waterman. The Lyons Press: New York, 1998. 20 Photos. 253 pages. $20.00.

Put down the notebook you’ve been using to record your favorite quotes about climbing and go to your local outdoor retail shop or bookstore to purchase Jonathan Waterman’s latest work. The Quotable Climber, a compilation of over 600 quotes, quips, and musings about the mountaineering experience, contains inspirational and thought-provoking pieces from authors as varied as the climbing community itself. Waterman has clearly done some digging while researching this book. Quotes appear from both well- known alpinists and rock aces as well as unknown or anonymous climbers. A pleasant surprise is the inclusion of several quotes about mountains and nature from more popular writers such as Camus, Hawthorne, Nietzsche, Thoreau, and the odd world leader like Churchill.

This small-format hardcover book is neatly divided into 19 chapters of different topics covering the full spectrum of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that climbing elicits. Chapters cover climbing accidents and epics, famous climbs, humor, and many other subjects. One chapter, titled “The Greatest Hill on Earth,” is devoted entirely to thoughts about Mount Everest. Waterman provides, by way of a brief editor’s introduction, historical anecdotes combined with his own personal experiences to convey the mood of an upcoming chapter. I found this organization to be practical and the historical commentary important to the book’s allure. In lieu of an index, a final chapter provides a brief biographical sketch about each of the authors included. I found the absence of any reference to the page numbers of quotes included by a particular author a bit frustrating. This type of cross-reference would be helpful for those researching an individual climber or event. Also, the black-and-white photos that preface each chapter are appropriate, but some tend to be dark.

I had already spent time skimming through my personal copy of The Quotable Climber before I was asked to review it here. Minor complaints aside, my affection for this book has deepened after spending more time absorbing it. Whether you put a copy on your shelf or give it to a friend, its pages will undoubtedly see the light of day many times in years to come.

Len Zanni