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by Walter Bonatti & Robert Marshall

Pub Date: March 9th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-75640-X
Publisher: Modern Library

Well-made compendium of adventures—and misadventures—on some of the world’s highest peaks.

In his day, Italian adventurer Bonatti was among the world’s best-known climbers, having established daring new routes on some of the most forbidding mountains of the Alps, many accomplished on solo climbs without oxygen. This collection, a volume in a series edited by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, 1997, etc.), gathers portions of several of Bonatti’s climbing memoirs, some of which were published in English editions but have long been out of print. As adventure writing, the memoirs are often standard fare: I came to a peak, I climbed it (or, in some cases, failed to climb it), I endured harrowing weather and the possibility of swan-diving into the abyss. Bonatti, however, is both more modest and more reflective than many of his contemporaries and successors (Reinhold Messner comes to mind); mountains, he writes, “are no more than the reflection of our spirit. Each peak is big or small, generous or mean, in proportion to what we offer it and what we ask of it.” Much of the book is given over to documents relating to Bonatti’s ill-fated climb of the Himalayan peak K2 in 1954, which, he notes with considerable understatement, “turned out to be more complicated and full of surprises than had been expected.” The junior member of an Italian national team, Bonatti was accused of abandoning his fellow climbers to scale K2 by himself and thus claim the honor of being the first to the summit; senior members charged that he had left them without sufficient oxygen, although two did make it to the top. Bonatti’s defense is vigorous and convincing, although it will doubtless not prove to be the final word in a controversy that has gone on for more than four decades.

Ably translated and edited by Australian climber Marshall, this will be of great interest to mountaineering buffs, and to armchair adventurers generally.