“The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas" by Scott Ellsworth
February 18, 2020
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
While it is well known that Sir Edmund Hilary was the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, what isn't as well known are the many attempts to climb Everest and other summits in the Himalayas before Hilary reached the top. There were many attempts to scale these mountains by various groups of climbers, most notably from England, Germany and the United States. The adventures of some of these attempts are told in this terrific book by Scott Ellsworth.
Each of the stories is gripping in its own manner, whether the climb was considered successful (a few were in the big picture, even if the summit wasn't reached), a disappointment or even deadly. There was one summit that the Germans tried to climb three times, Nanga Parbat, and each one was unsuccessful, with deaths to some climbers and Sherpas each time. American expeditions to K2 were met with similar results and the English were the most persistent with Everest, with their efforts finally paying off with Hilary's success.
Why the book is so good is that Ellsworth tells about the climbers, the Sherpas and other important people in the climbing teams in a manner that the reader will be able to easily relate to that person's traits, quirks and determination. That was a key characteristic to all the people portrayed – they all were determined to scale whatever Himalayan peak they were climbing. Add that to the description of the climbs and their experiences at base camps – mostly cold and fighting off terrible weather – and the reader is left with a fantastic description of what these mountaineers went through in trying to conquer some of the most challenging peaks in the world.
Even if the reader is not familiar with the language or sport of mountaineering, this book is one that he or she will enjoy for the human side of these adventures. If the reader enjoys books on this topic, like this reviewer, then it is one that must be added to his or her bookshelves, it is that good.
I wish to thank Little, Brown and Company for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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