The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

The White Spider - Heinrich Harrer
The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

A slow start – impenetrable style – but the going got easier as this account of attempts to climb the North Face of the Eiger progressed year by year.

Heinrich Harrer, of Seven Years In Tibet fame, was in the group of climbers who made the first successful ascent, in 1938.

Recalling my Urus ascent during 2015’s Cordillera Blanca Traverse, these words on page 83 resonated:

“Those hours between night and day are always a keen challenge to one’s courage. One’s body goes mechanically through the correct movements essential to gaining height; but the spirit is not yet awake nor full of the joy of climbing, the heart is shrouded in a cloak of doubt and diffidence….

They have to reconcile themselves with their own shortcomings and with constraining feelings; they have to subject themselves to the willpower already geared to the enterprise in hand. And so the first hour, the hour of the grey, shapeless, colourless dusk before dawn, is an hour of silence.”

First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015
First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015

Publisher page: The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer (translated by Hugh Merrick)

The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

The Boy With The Topknot - Sathnam Sanghera
The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

Sathnam Sanghera’s memories of growing up as second generation Sikh in Wolverhampton; grammar school leads to Cambridge and on to a career as a journalist in London.

Discovering his father, and subsequently his sister, both suffer from schizophrenia eventually draws him back to Wolverhampton to explore his family’s history and to have a long overdue conversation with his mother about marriage.

As Maggie O’Farrell’s quotation on the front cover says, it’s “heartbreaking and wonderful”.

Author’s page: The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

Tibet, Tibet – Patrick French

Tibet, Tibet - Patrick French
Tibet, Tibet – Patrick French

Supremely readable analysis of Tibet’s history and place in the modern world, covering its relationships with China and the rest of the world (past and present – including the British invasion under Younghusband), and Patrick French‘s own exploration of the country and encounters with the people and the politics of Tibet in 1999.

On his return, he resigned his position as director of the Free Tibet Campaign.

Publisher’s webpage: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land – Patrick French

Do No Harm – Henry Marsh

Do No Harm - Henry Marsh
Do No Harm – Henry Marsh

I read the first few pages of this a couple of years ago, on one of our Everest Get Together weekends in Pembrokeshire, and I finally got around to getting it out of the library.

Do No Harm continued to be an engrossing (and occasionally graphically gory) read. Fascinating first hand insights into what it is to be a brain surgeon working in the NHS at the end of the 20th century and early decades of the 21st: the frustrations and irritations, the triumphs and tragedies.

Henry Marsh explains neurological conditions, surgical procedures and accompanying medical terminology in day to day English, which makes these complex operations and the surgeons’ skills – technical and emotional – all the more admirable.

Publisher page: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

The Lost City of Z - David Grann
The Lost City of Z – David Grann

This name lodged in my brain from a 99 percent invisible (I think….) podcast advert, for the movie it’s been made into.

But don’t let that, or the cover and blurbs, put you off! The latter not do justice to the book’s research and the twin track quests it recounts – Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett‘s for the ancient civilisation(s) of the Amazon, the author’s for the expedition Fawcett led in 1925, and which never returned.

Fawcett’s previous explorations, surveying borders, rivers and routes through the Amazon in the 1910s and 1920s took place at the same time as more famous expeditions to the Poles and the Mallory-era attempts on Everest. Fawcett’s was a life similarly interrupted and irrevocably impacted by World War I, where he served as an officer on the Western Front.

A couple of interesting nuggets that I learned from the book were that:

  • The Royal Geographical Society was based for almost 25 years at 1 Savile Row
  • El Dorado was the title of the ruler of the fabled and fabulously rich kingdom deep in the jungle, to which the conquistadors gave that name

One minor niggle, but one that kept resurfacing, were the American English references that always jar for the British English ear: ‘the London Times’, the ‘Mayfair district’, ‘jelly’ for jam, ‘X wrote Y’. Still, worth working though!

The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon – David Grann