Obsessively detailed account of a life spent recklessly adventuring, by “the world’s greatest living explorer” (according to Guinness).
Fiennes (Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott’s Antarctic Quest, 2004, etc.), an older cousin of actors Ralph and Joseph, would seem like a British archetype of eccentric bluster were his feats of endurance not so remarkable. Although he has written about them in specific narratives, this book presents a panoramic view of his life. Conceived during World War II on his father’s last leave prior to being killed, it was perhaps inevitable that the youthful baronet would yearn for heroism. As an adolescent at the prestigious Eton school, he earned the titular epithet via numerous pranks involving explosives and wall climbing. Hungry for military adventure, he joined the SAS (akin to Special Forces); realizing his reckless streak would keep him from advancing, he then volunteered for combat in Oman, helping the Sultan suppress a Marxist rebellion. Although tempted by the life of a mercenary soldier, Fiennes was deeply in love with a young woman named Ginny; he married her to keep from losing her, then embarked on a seemingly endless string of risky endeavors while disingenuously mourning time spent away from home. Beginning with a 1970 expedition to survey a remote Norwegian glacier, he pursued numerous sponsored journeys to the far ends of the earth. (“Spend no money on mounting an expedition” is his business motto.) He devoted most of the ’70s to an ambitious plan to circumnavigate the globe via the two poles, with no less a sponsor than Prince Charles. This led to more ambitious punishments, like a plan “to reach the North Pole with no outside support and no air contact.” Even after losing fingers to frostbite, Fiennes kept going, ultimately attacking both Everest and Eiger, as well as returning to the Arctic. The narrative becomes a blur of technique, landscape and the baffling dangers faced by Fiennes and his long-suffering wife and associates.
Verbose, engrossing tale of old-school hazard-embracing manhood.