Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis
There is something about the story of George Mallory which attracts even those who are completely uninterested in climbing. As you can see from the title though, this is far bigger than just the story of one man. It examines the role of the British Empire, and how the race for Everest became for Great Britain a national obsession, and for Mallory a personal one.
Many of the characters within the book were brought up in the public school tradition and were made or broken in the Great War, and the background stories of some of these individuals is absolutely amazing, most worthy of a book or a film at least. Wade Davis really does bring them to life, and the detail in the book is at times overwhelming.
From the great war the book moves to Nepal and Tibet, and examines the often shameful role of the British Government in the politics of the region, as well as the negotiations at lower levels which allowed the early expeditions into the area. The story of Francis Younghusband and his exploits in Tibet the early 1900’s illustrates perfectly the attitudes of the time, his equipment consisting of “29 cases” with outfits and hats for every conceivible occasion, the fact 88 porters died of exhaustion hauling his kit (and others like him) probably had no effect on him. Mallory is also revealed as being of that time, writing to his wife of his intentions of bringing a slave home who could be kept in a space in the coal bunker and fed on scraps!
The book focuses then on three expeditions, the 1921 and 1922 expeditions, and the fateful 1924 expedition where Mallory and Irvine died. The book goes into great detail about how the members were selected to take part, and reveals how snobbery and class led to one of the outstanding climbers of the time, George Finch, being removed from the 1921 expedition, due to his being Australian. A far cry from 1953 when a New Zealander was good enough!
The expeditions and summit bids are relayed in tremendous detail, which goes some way to explaining the books length, the main story taking up 573 of the books 655 pages. I think that some people have probably climbed Everest quicker than I read this! It’s a hefty and committing read, but it is well worth it. The mystery of whether Mallory and Irvine summited for now remains just that, a mystery. It would be nice to think it will one day be solved, however for now this book must be the most complete examination of the events leading up to their disappearance, and is well worth reading.