Review first appeared online January 2018 – now republished here.
Title: The Fight for Everest 1924 (2015 edition)
Author: E. F. Norton and Other Members of the Expedition
Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, History, Outdoors-mountaineering
Book format: Hardcover
Description: 1924 Mount Everest remained unclimbed. Two British expeditions had already tackled what was known to be the highest mountain on Earth. The first, in 1921, found a route to the base. The second, in 1922, attempted the summit, reaching a record height of 27,320 feet before retreating. Two years later, a team that included Colonel E.F. Norton, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine returned to the Himalaya.
Armed with greater knowledge and experience, confidence was high. But they were still climbing into the unknown. How high could they climb without supplementary oxygen? Would the cumbersome oxygen equipment help them climb higher? Could they succeed where others had failed, and make the first ascent of the highest mountain on earth? Before they could find out, tragedy struck George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, climbing high on the mountain, vanished into the clouds.
First published in 1925, and reissued now for only the second time, The Fight for Everest 1924 is the official record of this third expedition to Everest. The compelling narrative by Norton and other expedition members, and Mallory s vivid letters home, present a gripping picture of life in the Himalaya. Notes and observations from the entire team show how far knowledge of the mountain and of high-altitude climbing had advanced by 1924, and make recommendations for future Everest attempts.
As well as the full original text and illustrations, this edition reproduces some of Norton s superb pencil sketches and watercolours along with previously unpublished materials from his private archive. These include original planning documents from the expedition, Mallory s last note to Norton, and a moving letter to Norton from Mallory s widow. Together, they add up to complete one of the most fascinating mountaineering books ever written.
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: I’m surprised with how much I’ve enjoyed reading this book. In 1924 nobody had managed to climb to the top of Mount Everest yet, but a new expedition was launched to do just that, and this book is the first hand account of what happened during that 1924 attempt. This edition of the book is a quite heavy hardback with an outer sleeve and is filled with lots of text and has sections with some amazing images on a glossy paper.
I’ll admit that before I began reading this I knew very little of any expeditions to climb Mount Everest, but I was keen to learn and found the idea of reading first hand accounts really interesting. The first pages are introductions by various people and then you begin reading about the expedition. The writing style is a little different to modern books, this being originally written over ninety years ago now. It reads a bit like some classics, but that didn’t put me off, and it’s still easy to understand.
The book is separated into parts, Part 1 is The Narrative and is the complete expedition from marching through Tibet to get to Everest, the attempts made to climb it, and then the marching back through Tibet. For me this was the most interesting part of the book and is the majority of the text. I won’t go into details of what happened but the whole Narrative is told by various expedition members and is surprisingly interesting to read. When I first saw the book I didn’t think I’d be reading about the march through Tibet and the detailed setting up of the camps but there’s something about reading all this that made the book more interesting. Unlike a lot of modern books that get to the main action of what happened and choose to omit the little things, sometimes silly things, that happened, this report talks about everything and it makes you feel like you are there. Being someone who didn’t know much about climbing Everest or what’s involved, I really felt like I understood everything all the more for reading such detailed text, and it’s not overly detailed that it becomes too boring.
I enjoyed reading this Narrative section, even towards the end when the inevitable disappearance of Mallory and Irvine are spoken about, including the sad last moments they were seen. Because this book is like a report of what happened at Everest there are conflicting opinions from different members of the expedition as to what happened, which makes for interesting reading and you’re left to your own conclusions of what happened as there’s never a definite answer.
Part 2 is Mallory’s letters to his wife and these are interesting as it feels similar to the Narrative and he charts the march across Tibet and what happens towards the start of the climb. The last part of this books is called Observations and wasn’t as interesting as the others for me, but this is because a lot of the observations made, and written, by various expedition members is like a notes on how to improve future expeditions and what things went wrong or right with this one in 1924. There are different sections within this Part, and while things like the Natural History (animals, insects, plants, etc.) of the area, and the physical effects of the climb and high altitude were interesting to read, I confess I found other parts like Geology and Glaciology hard as I’m just not into that and a lot of the terms and names for things were lost on me.
Within the text there are five sections of images with a few glossy pages showing pictures of drawings and paintings done by some of the expedition members (mostly by Norton) and photographs taken while there as well as some other documents. The pictures are well placed to go with the section text you’ve just read and each of them is clearly labelled so you know what you are looking at. I found some of the photographs, especially of the Rongbuk Glacier very interesting and Norton’s paintings and sketches are stunning to look at! All these images really help add to the book and I’m glad they’ve been included.
The front and back of the covers feature maps of the Tibetan and wider area, giving you an idea of how far the expedition had to march to get to Everest. The writing can be a bit slow at times and given the fact this was written in 1924/25 some of the words and terms used can sound strange today, however there’s something quite interesting and charming about it and to read about the wider expedition as well as some silly anecdotes like one man hogging the bedding overnight, or the trouble they had with bees on the way back, makes this a very good, although long read. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested. It may not be a book for all, but as someone who didn’t have that much interest before, I can say it’s a made me want to know so much more about this and other expeditions to Everest and it’s a very good read.
Have you ever been interested in Everest or the history of climbing? What non-fiction books do you enjoy reading? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂