The sport of mountaineering is less than two centuries old--and may last, Clark suggests, if its enthusiasts don't take it too seriously. It is actually not a single sport but a collection of activities, and each peak puts forth its own demands and rules. The Chinese have turned it into a series of propaganda conquests, attributing their scaling of Everest to ""the leadership of the Communist Party and the unrivalled superiority of the socialist system and. . . the strategic thinking of Mae Tze-tung."" How serious was the Japanese climber who skiied down Fuji at 105 miles per hour? Or Rick Sylvester, who skiied down the stone slab of Yosemite's El Capitain, ending with a 1000-meter parachute drop? Clark's history of the great challenges, aesthetic satisfactions, and dangers (the famed reply ""Because it is there!"" does not really tell us much about motives) covers every phase, technique, and hardship of climbing. No single climb rates more than a few pages or really has a chance to build exhilaratingly. A fact-rich compendium of awesome heights and shimmering descriptions, with hundreds of illustrations.