FALL OF THE PHANTOM LORD by Andrew Todhunter


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A thoughtful, elegant portrait of risky business, focusing on rock climber and leaper Dan Osman, and with much startling autobiographical material from Atlantic Monthly contributor Todhunter. Todhunter finds in Osman not just a fascinating sporting figure—a man who routinely climbs hellacious rock faces; puts up routes with what appear to be loopholes in the laws of gravity; ascends blue helixes of sheer ice, then frequently leaps from the top, secured by climbing ropes. He’s a bit of an outlaw, but with a thirst for the beauty of a graceful line. He is also someone whose pursuit of fear Todhunter can relate to, a gauge by which he measures his own reckless youth and considers his options as fatherhood bears down on him. Todhunter deliberates upon the pursuit of risk, and questions whether extreme sport constitutes a betrayal of our emotional and economic dependents, where, in a curious turn, the ethics of the sport—to cut a fine mortal edge—becomes unethical behavior. But these deep ruminations never become ponderous. Todhunter is always brought back to the simple Zen beauty of hard climbing. He writes with unequaled skill about the art of making a one-finger lunge for a pocket with precisely enough force to match the apex of a jump. The aesthetics, etiquette, and pecking order of the climbing community; the sheer joy of climbing, of deploying a quiver of grips, exploring the nuances of the rock to score an artful ascent. Yet all through the story the quesiton is raised of abusing the Fates— generosity, of whether the next challenge—a jump from a bridge, a bouldering problem that is ominously consequential—will be one too many. Classic participant-observer journalism—informed and heady—that brightly illuminates the strange, enthralling world of risk sports.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48641-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998


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