Title: Edmund Hillary: A Biography
Author: Michael Gill
Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing
Genre: Biography, Outdoors – mountaineering, adventures
Book format: Hardcover
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Description: Edmund Hillary: A Biography is the story of the New Zealand beekeeper who climbed Mount Everest. A man who against expedition orders drove his tractor to the South Pole; a man honoured around the world for his pioneering climbs yet who collapsed on more than one occasion on a mountain, and a man who gave so much to Nepal yet lost his family to its mountains.
The author, Michael Gill, was a close friend of Hillary’s for nearly 50 years, accompanying him on many expeditions and becoming heavily involved in Hillary’s aid work building schools and hospitals in the Himalaya. During the writing of this book, Gill was granted access to a large archive of private papers and photos that were deposited in the Auckland museum after Hillary’s death in 2008. Building on this unpublished material, as well as his extensive personal experience, Michael Gill profiles a man whose life was shaped by both triumph and tragedy.
Gill describes the uncertainties of the first 33 years of Hillary’s life, during which time he served in the New Zealand air force during the Second World War, as well as the background to the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit – a feat that brought the pair instant worldwide fame. He reveals the loving relationship Hillary had with his wife Louise, in part through their touching letters to each other. Her importance to him during their 22 years of marriage only underlines the horror of her death, along with that of their youngest daughter, Belinda, in a plane crash in 1975. Hillary eventually pulled out of his subsequent depression to continue his life’s work in the Himalaya.
Affectionate, but scrupulously fair, in Edmund Hillary: A Biography Michael Gill has gone further than anyone before to reveal the humanity of this remarkable man.*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  This is an amazing book, so detailed and compellingly told, it really is worth reading whether you regularly read books on mountaineering or not. Edmund Hillary is probably most famously remembered for being the first man to the top of Everest along with Tenzing Norgay. The two of them made history with this feat in 1953, and Hillary went on to do many more amazing things.  But not everyone is aware of just how much he did in his later years, or the impact that his family had on his life, or the impact of a terrible tragedy.

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I have to confess that I’m one of the people who grew up not knowing about all that Edmund Hillary did. I knew about his climbing of Everest, but beyond that I didn’t know that much, which is why I wanted to read this book. Being a biography of his life, it starts at the begining, not only talking about the start of his life, but diving into the history of his paternal and maternal families, and how they ended up in New Zealand. This may seem irrelevant at first, but it’s actually fascinating, and learning about his family and particularly the terrible experiences his father suffered during the first world war, gives you an insight into the man that Edmund Hillary would become.

Chapter after chapter I kept reading this, feeling ever more compelled to keep reading on. The way the book is written is really good, it’s easy to read and you constantly want to turn the page to find out what happened next. Among the text which is seperated into chapters, and sections within chapters, are photographs of people and places, in black and white and later in colour. There are also diary and letter excerpts throughout the book, giving you an even more detailed look into the lives of Hillary and his family. Reading some of these can make you really feel the emotions that they were feeling at the time and even reading some of Percy Hillary’s diary entries at Gallipoli gives you a deeper insight into just how terrible things were during that campaign. There are some lovely moments throughout the biography, as we get to read more about Hillary’s wife Louise and the letters they sent back and forth to each other. The book really does give you more details than you’d ever think possible, but they are all relevant, and it makes you feel a real connection with everyone.

Having known about little more than his climb to the top of Everest in 1953, it was so interesting to read about all the other things that Hillary did, such as the South Pole journey with tractors, and his later trips, and attempted climbs.  It was even amazing to read about Lukla (an airport known for its dangers) and how the airport came to be.  I knew about Lukla airport but had no idea just how involved Hillary was in it’s creation!  However despite the amazing feats which are all interesting to read about, what I found most interesting is what he did in his later years for the people in the Himalayan region, after his famous summit of Everest. I had no idea just how much humanitarian work he did, and how humble his character remained throughout his life.

The book has some brilliant descriptions of the places, people and adventures Hillary went on.  This is probably due to the fact that the author was a part of some of these adventures himself, being able to remember and describe places with detail.  He also knew Hillary personally, I even enjoyed the anecdote about how he got his first job with him!  As well as his personal connection to the family, the author also had access to so many documents  which makes this book incredibly detailed and yet not overly saturated.  It’s the perfect balance making this an interesting and quite compelling read.

The back of the book has a notes section along with a bibliography. The notes are worth checking out while reading along as they do sometimes explain some terms or things for people who might not understand certain things.  There is also a handy map of New Zealand and Antarctica at the back of the book too (which are mentioned in certain chapters), along with maps on the inside covers of the general Himalayan region.  The photographs throughout the book are printed directly onto the book’s matt paper but are very clear and easy to see, I like how many images are included with this book and the way they are included within the chapters rather than having to rely on flicking to a central spot in the whole book to see them.

Edmund Hillary A Biography book page image two
©The Strawberry Post

This really has been an amazing book to read! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so detailed and it’s written in such a way that you just want to keep reading on. You don’t even have to really be versed in mountaineering to enjoy reading this story of an amazing man. You get to learn about his life, the amazing things he did, and even find out about some little extras like a synopsis of an unpublished novel that Hillary wrote! It really is a brilliant read and for anyone interested, I’d certainly recommend it.

Do you know much about Edmund Hillary’s life?  What other biographies do you enjoy or who would you want to read about?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂