The World Beneath Their Feet

The World Beneath Their Feet

Scott Ellsworth
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This non-fiction book is about one of the slowest races but also one of the deadliest races that has been part of human endeavour. This is the Great Himalayan Mountain Race to see who would be first to the summit of Mt Everest. We know who got there first and when but this book is not so much about that but about the previous attempts on “Achttausenders”, peaks over 8000 meters in height.

The main part of the book is the period 1931 to 1953 but does not restrict itself to that and goes back to the 19th century to pick up the beginnings of mountaineering as a sport. The mountaineers who took part, the Sherpas who accompanied them as porters and guides are well portrayed. From the start of his story, the author takes us right into the lives and thoughts of the climbers involved, their reasons for putting their lives on the line, and putting their lives at risk is very apparent with many deaths on the mountains. The main climbers come from Britain, German/Austria and the USA who ran major expeditions to the Himalayas in this period, but not wholly restricted to them as Chinese, Italian, Swiss and other country’s mountaineers mounted expeditions. These climbing were not all about Everest but included other Achttausenders in the Himalayas such as K2 for the Americans and Nanga Parbat for the Germans, with Everest being the British goal, which they jealously kept to themselves as much as they could.

The author has brought us a fine piece of writing and this is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in a long time. It is easy reading yet is filled with drama, courage, endeavour and at times one is almost on the mountainside experiencing the freezing gales whistling round one’s tent. The author shows huge respect to the climbers yet is not shy in pointing out their foibles and faults. Climbing the highest and most dangerous mountains in the world does not call for shrinking violets. The author also charts the change in attitudes to the Sherpas from virtual servants to fellow climbers, with the same respect.

George Mallory was a famous and accomplished climber who, when he was asked why he wanted to risk all and climb Everest, replied “Because it is there”. Sums up the ethos of the mountaineer, but Mallory lost his life on Everest.

There are extensive Notes and Appendices with thumbnails on the climbers and also on the main expeditions to the Himalayas in this time along with a glossary of climbing terms.

I am not a climbing enthusiast, but this book really drew me in. If you are interested in human endeavour, skill, courage and ingenuity then please get a copy of this book – it is all there.

I would give this book 10 out of 5 stars!

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