Title: The Magician’s Glass – Character and Fate: Eight Essays on Climbing and the Mountain Life
Author: Ed Douglas
Publisher:  Vertebrate Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, Outdoors-mountaineering/climbing, Biography/autobiography
Book format: Paperback
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Description: The Magician’s Glass by award-winning writer Ed Douglas is a collection of eight recent essays on some of the biggest stories and best-known personalities in the world of climbing.
In the title essay, he writes about failure on Annapurna III in 1981, one of the boldest attempts in Himalayan mountaineering on one of the most beautiful lines – a line that remains unclimbed to this day.
Douglas writes about bitter controversies, like that surrounding Ueli Steck’s disputed solo ascent of the south face of Annapurna, the fate of Toni Egger on Cerro Torre in 1959 – when Cesare Maestri claimed the pair had made the first ascent, and the rise and fall of Slovenian ace Tomaz Humar. There are profiles of two stars of the 1980s: the much-loved German Kurt Albert, the father of the ‘redpoint’, and the enigmatic rock star Patrick Edlinger, a national hero in his native France who lost his way.
In Crazy Wisdom, Douglas offers fresh perspectives on the impact mountaineering has on local communities and the role climbers play in the developing world. The final essay explores the relationship between art and alpinism as a way of understanding why it is that people climb mountains.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  This is an interesting book filled with eight essays about mountaineering and the people who do it. It’s a surprisingly interesting read and you don’t have to be heavily into mountaineering to enjoy reading this book. Each essay is a separate piece of work and focuses around a particular climber or issue surrounding modern mountaineering. Despite only knowing about half of the people mentioned here, the book was very interesting, especially as it asks deeper questions about why people do things, or the thinking and beliefs people have.

From the very first page I felt drawn into this book. Something about the way it’s written makes it so easy to read and I’m surprised with how much I got into it. Not knowing much about the history of mountain climbing I was worried I wouldn’t be able to follow many of the stories but the author does a good job of explaining the history of a certain climber or the controversy over a certain event so you can understand everything you are reading about making this an enjoyable read for someone like me.

Each essay is interesting but I found some of them more so, some were even surprising and I couldn’t help but talk about it with friends afterwards. Two essays I particularly liked were ‘Stealing Toni Egger’ and ‘Crazy Wisdom’. In an essay titled ‘Stealing Toni Egger’ the author explains the controversy over a certain climb where one of the two men died and the questions over whether, to this day, the survivor has told the truth of what happened. In another essay, ‘Crazy Wisdom’ the author talks about the way Sherpas and porters have been treated in the past and whether things have changed or need changing in the today’s world. I was surprised to hear how bad conditions are in this day and age and how exploited this groups still is.

I won’t go into the details of any more essays but every one of them is interesting to read and although the author makes their own observations it also leaves you debating the thoughts and ideas in your own mind. I think that’s why I liked reading this book so much, it wasn’t just an interesting piece of non fiction but it left me thinking about it afterwards.

Although this will obviously be far more appreciated by someone with an interest in mountaineering, I would still recommend it for anyone who is interested in reading short non-fiction pieces which make you think.

-Review first appeared online April 2018 – now republished here.


Have you read any books about climbing?  What about other non-fiction books with small essays in them?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂