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Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (edition 2003)

by Robert Macfarlane

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292838,453 (3.76)18
Member:rightantler
Title:Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination
Authors:Robert Macfarlane
Info:Granta Books (2003), Edition: First Edition, first printing, Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Stewart's Read
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Tags:Y04, nature, philosophy

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Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination by Robert Macfarlane

  1. 00
    I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination by Francis Spufford (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: Both are crafted books, and both deal with the attraction of the extreme, the unknown and the doomed
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Robert Macfarlane has a great ability to convey his passions without proselytising, and without ever boring readers who don't feel the same degree of obsession. Earlier in the year I read, and was entranced by, his beautiful exploration of ancients routes that have survived into the modern day, "The Old Ways". I had wondered if my enjoyment of that book was, in part at least, driven by my own burgeoning interest in walking as a pastime. However, my enjoyment of this book is not in any way a reflection of any passion for mountaineering of my own - on those rare occasions when I make the mistake of walking from the basement canteen at work up to my fifth floor office, I find myself wheezing and gasping for breath, imagining I am about to start coughing up blood. I might not be quite as feeble as Proust, who claimed to be suffering vertigo after the journey from Versailles to Paris (a route which, over the space of several miles, described a difference in altitude of just 89 metres), but I am not about to break out the ropes and pitons or don any crampons any time too soon. (It does occur to me, though, that if I were regularly to carry an ice axe in open view, I might not be troubled by quite so many nutters when I travel on the Tube.)

I do like looking at mountains, though, and that attraction of the peak-bestrewn wilds for the town dweller is another aspect that Macfarlane covers in depth. The idea that mountaineers climb mountains simply because they are there is now almost a given in modern thought, but this has only been the case for a relatively short portion of the human experience. Up until the late seventeenth century mountains were merely seen as obstacles to trade routes to be climbed only when there was no viable alternative route for merchants to circumvent them. The eighteenth century saw a gradual change that accelerated into the nineteenth century, when the vogue for bagging peaks really began. Macfarlane catalogues these developments with awe at the courage or recklessness of Victorian adventurers setting off with no equipment, seldom even bothering to don more appropriate boots. Nowadays the outdoor activity equipment industry is worth billions.

Macfarlane's own love of mountains and mountaineering arose from his holiday visits to his grandparents in the Scottish Highlands. He read old accounts of mountaineering expeditions in his grandfathers extensive library, and he went up various Monroes, picking up different rock as he went. His interest in the geology of the mountains is as enticing as his stories about climbing them.

He also gives a fascinating concise history of the geology of the major mountain ranges, along with an analysis of changing views of how (and when) the mountains were formed. Once again he handles an area susceptible to technical overload with great adroitness.

The book is peppered with recollections of Macfarlane's own mountaineering experiences, often alarmingly self-deprecating in tone, though it is clear that he is an accomplished climber. He offers appealing accounts of some of the great climbing expeditions, too,including the legendary Mallory who made three attempts upon Everest in 1921, 1922 and 1924,, meeting his death on the final one.

This was a very entertaining read for a vicarious adventurer such as myself, though I imagine that those more actively involved in mountaineering might also find it very enjoyable. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Dec 21, 2013 |
Macfarlane explores how the fascination with mountains first developed by noting the history and literature of this subject as well as by describing his own mountain climbing adventures and then ending with the story of Mallory's attempt to climb Mt Everest. He describes Mallory's fascination with Everest as partly due to "the emotional traditions which he inherited and cultivated" which Macfarlane has talked about in the first part of the book.

The book is very well written and researched, but for me goes on a little too long on explicating the history of thoughts about mountains. It works best when he writes about Mallory's three attempts to climb Everest and why we are fascinated by mountains today. He says "At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into- that the world has been made for humans by humans...."One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence...."mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes." ( )
  dallenbaugh | Aug 8, 2013 |
A gorgeous meditation on just what mountains mean to us. Lyrical and beautiful ( )
  JerryColonna | Feb 27, 2013 |
This is a lively mixture of the history of geology, the changing appreciation of landscape and a history of mountaineering. All are interwoven in a bold attempt to understand and explain our current awareness of nature and how our view of the natural world has altered over the centuries. Macfarlane brings to this rich mix, his own experiences while climbing. In this way, he gives a revealing insight into why many are attracted to and bewitched by mountains and wild places.
  camharlow | Feb 5, 2013 |
Interesting insight into the mind of some mountaineers and why they sometimes fatally are drawn into the mountains. Mini-history to Mallory's three attempts at Everest. ( )
  simondavies | Sep 30, 2009 |
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I was a twelve-year-old in my grandparents' house in the Scottish Highlands when I first came across one of the great stories of mountaineering: 'The Fight for Everest', an account of the 1924 British expedition during which George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared near the summit of Everest.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375714065, Paperback)

Combining accounts of legendary mountain ascents with vivid descriptions of his own forays into wild, high landscapes, Robert McFarlane reveals how the mystery of the world’s highest places has came to grip the Western imagination—and perennially draws legions of adventurers up the most perilous slopes.
His story begins three centuries ago, when mountains were feared as the forbidding abodes of dragons and other mysterious beasts. In the mid-1700s the attentions of both science and poetry sparked a passion for mountains; Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Lord Byron extolled the sublime experiences to be had on high; and by 1924 the death on Mt Everest of an Englishman named George Mallory came to symbolize the heroic ideals of his day. Macfarlane also reflects on fear, risk, and the shattering beauty of ice and snow, the competition and contemplation of the climb, and the strange alternate reality of high altitude, magically enveloping us in the allure of mountains at every level.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:51 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Since they were once avoided at all costs, how have mountains, in the space of three centuries, come to exert such a strange and sometimes fatal hold on the imagination, moving millions every year to risk their lives? The author of this engaging book seeks to answer these questions.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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