On June 6, 1924, two men set out from a camp perched at 23,000 feet on an ice ledge just below the lip of Mount Everest’s North Col. George Mallory, thirty-seven, was Britain’s finest climber. Sandy Irvine was a young Oxford scholar of twenty-two with little previous mountaineering experience. Neither of them returned.
In this magisterial work of history and adventure, based on more than a decade of prodigious research in British, Canadian, and European archives, and months in the field in Nepal and Tibet, Wade Davis vividly re-creates British climbers’ epic attempts to scale Mount Everest in the early 1920s. With new access to letters and diaries, Davis recounts the heroic efforts of George Mallory and his fellow climbers to conquer the mountain in the face of treacherous terrain and furious weather. Into the Silence sets their remarkable achievements in sweeping historical context: Davis shows how the exploration originated in nineteenth-century imperial ambitions, and he takes us far beyond the Himalayas to the trenches of World War I, where Mallory and his generation found themselves and their world utterly shattered. In the wake of the war that destroyed all notions of honor and decency, the Everest expeditions, led by these scions of Britain’s elite, emerged as a symbol of national redemption and hope.
Beautifully written and rich with detail, Into the Silence is a classic account of exploration and endurance, and a timeless portrait of an extraordinary generation of adventurers, soldiers, and mountaineers the likes of which we will never see again.
“The First World War, the worst calamity humanity has ever inflicted on itself, still reverberates in our lives. In its immediate aftermath, a few young men who had fought in it went looking for a healing challenge, and found it far from the Western Front. In recreating their astonishing adventure, Wade Davis has given us an elegant meditation on the courage to carry on.” (George F. Will)
“I was captivated. Wade Davis has penned an exceptional book on an extraordinary generation. They do not make them like that any more. And there would always only ever be one Mallory. From the pathos of the trenches to the inevitable tragedies high on Everest this is a book deserving of awards. Monumental in its scope and conception it nevertheless remains hypnotically fascinating throughout. A wonderful story tinged with sadness.” (Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void)
“Into the Silence is utterly fascinating, and grippingly well-written. With extraordinary skill Wade Davis manages to weave together such disparate strands as Queen Victoria’s Indian Raj, the ‘Great Game’ of intrigue against Russia, the horrors of the Somme, and Britain’s obsession to conquer the world’s highest peak, all linking to that terrible moment atop Everest when Mallory fell to his death. The mystery of whether he and Irving ever reached the summit remains tantalizingly unsolved.” (Alistair Horne, author of The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916)
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Really enjoyed it
A stunning and audacious story
Overall this is an excellent work. Davis' research and story telling combine in illustrating a broad and complicated narrative. He connects the history of exploration in the Himalayas, British imperialism in India and the surrounding territories, and the convulsive effects of the Great War on the imperial ruling classes into one convincing thesis. Moreover Davis' Canadian background and work as an ethno-botinast add depth and colour to the narrative.
My only criticism of Davis work regard his reliance on the dated 'Lions led by Donkeys' view of the war. This argues that the war was fought by faultlessly heroic young men who were killed by the gross ineptitude of their own back room generals. This view of the Great War has been largely dismissed by historians for some time now, and Davis would have been better served by reading some more current historiography - none of which would have detracted from his overarching narrative. Indeed it would only have served to improve the work by avoiding what are in effect dated historical conventions (although still held as current by the general public, of course).
Nonetheless this is an excellent and interesting work on a subject, or really collection of subjects, that are all the better illuminated by being treated in concert.
As for the reading Enn Reitel does a sound job, save for the occasional and mystifying mispronunciation of reasonably common words and phrases, from Great War battlefields to Cambridge Colleges.
Anything by Peter Hopkirk
- Will Jackson