Wade Davis has written a magnificent work of history, biography and adventure.
Into the Silence
The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
published October 2011 in the UK by The Bodley Head
hardcover of 672 pages with b/w illus. UK Price £25 + post
If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for
an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission
of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war. Of the twenty-six British
climbers who, on three expeditions (1921-24), walked 400 miles off the map to find
and assault the highest mountain on Earth, twenty had seen the worst of the fighting.
Six had been severely wounded, two others nearly died of disease at the Front, one
was hospitalized twice with shell shock. Three as army surgeons dealt for the duration
with the agonies of the dying. Two lost brothers, killed in action. All had endured
the slaughter, the coughing of the guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces
of the dead.
In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis
asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but
rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase
uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: "The price of
life is death." Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation,
death was but "a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day."
As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were
not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much of it that it had
no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive.
For all of them Everest had become an exalted radiance, a sentinel in the sky, a
symbol of hope in a world gone mad.
“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
“Wade Davis’ mesmerizing telling of Mallory’s fabled story gives new and revealing
weight to the significance of its post-war era and to Mallory’s dazzlingly accomplished
and courageous companions. Into the Silence succeeds not only because Davis’ research
was prodigious, but because every sentence has been struck with conviction, every
image evoked with fierce reverence—for the heartbreaking twilight era, for the magnificent
resilience of its survivors, for their mission, for Mallory, for his mountain. An
epic worthy of its epic.”
—Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance and The War That Killed Achilles
“I was captivated. They were a gilded generation and for me the nineteen twenties
and thirties were the golden age of mountaineering. Wade Davis has penned an exceptional
book on an extraordinary generation. They do not make them like that anymore. 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