A Memoir About Affirming Life in the Face of Death
Email this review


Terrible title, but a good adventure story mixed with meditations on the meaning of life and death and dying. Wickwire is one of the world’s most accomplished mountain climbers. For over 30 years he has challenged the great summits: Everest, K2 in the Himalayas, Mt. McKinley, and so many others. Some of these mountains he has conquered, some have conquered him, but he has never lost his desire to climb. The descriptions of his adventures are gripping tales. Yet “off the mountains,” the writing is unengaging, despite the stylistic contributions of co-author Bullitt (Filling the Void: Six Steps from Loss to Fulfillment, not reviewed). Wickwire’s family, for instance, is present throughout the book, and he’s clearly devoted to them, yet the reader does not get more than a one-dimensional understanding of them. On the other hand, the people with whom he climbs are finely sketched; they are real and complex. Perhaps this is because when he’s not climbing, life is, both literally and figuratively, flat; perhaps only when he is in danger does he truly become alive and observant. Wickwire, however, spends little time being introspective here, until (and very effectively) near the end of the book. Both author and reader suddenly realize this book has been about death, the deaths of so many friends on the slopes: fellow climbers, a young woman he dearly loved. The brutal murder off the slopes of his law partner causes him to question hoary clichÇs about adventure: Is dying while doing what one loves any less terrible, any less terrifying, than dying another way? Why purposely put oneself in harm’s way? Seemingly disillusioned, this aging athlete responds to his crisis of faith in perhaps the only way he knows how: He climbs a mountain. In the end, the reader knows little about why people like Wickwire are addicted to danger. It may be an unanswerable question. (b&w photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-671-01990-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998


NonfictionTHE WILL TO CLIMB by Ed Viesturs
by Ed Viesturs