Recommended by Phil Weir
Winner in 2012 of the Samuel Johnson Prize, the UK’s leading non-fiction award, this gripping work is built around the inextricable links between the Great War and the three British attempts on Everest in the early 1920s, culminating in the loss of Mallory and Irving during their attempt on the summit in 1924 (the source of mountaineering’s greatest enduring mystery).
Of the two dozen climbers involved in the expeditions, only six had not seen action in the conflict, and their time in the Himalayas was replete with echoes of the trenches, not least in the use of soldierly slang – ‘shows’ as slang for ascents – and the equipment – oxygen cylinders and masks for men who, in many cases, had worn similar gear to survive gas attacks on the Western Front.
The very raison d’etre for a conquering of Everest back then could also be seen as the need for a crowning imperial achievement following the losses of the war.
Not that they didn’t go into the wilds without some home comforts – they were armed to the teeth with quail eggs and champagne!