The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation By Clint Willis

Clint Willis é 9 review

At best this is a non fiction novel

too much is fantasy made up by the author
The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation As someone who has never, will never, and wants never, to climb even a hill without a path and ice cream shop every mile, I remain somewhat perplexed by those who feel they must endure freezing cold, ridiculous food, tea all the time (if you’re British), and the constant risk of death. But these psychotics are great fun to read about. I’ve read several mountaineering accounts, and not just for the feats of climbing, but the internal and external personality conflicts, as well.

One wonders in books like this just how much of the internal thinking reported can be relied upon. One Amazon reviewer who claims to be a moderately successful climber himself (I certainly can be no judge) echoes my concern. “...shows to be invented material on thoughts and motivations of the people about whom he writes. I am suspicious of this practice and it may well be that it says more about our Clint than it does about our Chris.” *

In the aftermath of Tony’s death, one of women at the base camp notes she had begun to “fear people who didn’t know any easier way to be happy.” That certainly sums up one attitude toward these overgrown children. Willis doesn’t call them “boys” lightly.

Climbing techniques were changing and Chris Bonington, a constant in Willis’ book and known as a more than competent climber and organizer, soon realized that the techniques of mountaineering had changed. The practice of large groups with multiple base camps, lots of supplies, many sherpas, fixed ropes to ease passage between base camps, was losing favor to smaller, lighter attacks on summits, more in the tradition of Alpine climbers.

The larger question is whether the author gets it “right” when he discusses motivations and the ethos of climbing. I suspect he does, but have no way of knowing. Nevertheless, this book is intriguing and riveting, a real page-turner.

Audiobook ably read by James Adams

*Ref: The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation I recently returned from mountaineering school in the Cascades. I went in the hope of familiarizing myself with the techniques and skills to be a competent follower of a guided trip up some larger mountains, such as Rainier, Aconagua, or Denali. The mountains inspired me to know the history of mountaineering. Amazon recommended The Boys of Everest.

I'd heard of Mallory and Hilary, of course, but never of Chris Bonington and his boys (including Hamish McInnes, Don Whillans, Ian Clough, Joe Tasker, Peter Boardman, Doug Scott, etc.) Apparently, according to Clint Willis, they revolutionized climbing. I don't know how, because the book doesn't give a great deal of context. What it does, mainly, is give a step by step account of seemingly every climb these guys did, from the Bonatti Pillar and the Eiger's North Face to K2 and Everest.

Willis gives the briefest of biographical sketches (and even briefer skethces of the women left behind), then jumps into the expeditions and the minutiae of some of the world's most famous climbs. At first, the detail is thrilling. You are there, turn by turn and step by step as the climbers cross glaciers, lay anchors, and tap in pitons. You get a sense of the sheer output of energy needed to get to the top. After 500 pages, though, it just gets repetitive. One excruciatingly difficult climb blurs into another.

Throughout the climb, Willis intersperses the thoughts of his characters at certain points along the trek. The detail of the thoughts is almost novelistic, and you think, geez, these guys either left behind great memoirs, letters and diaries, or Willis scored some sweet interviews. Then, however, Willis starts relating the thoughts of dead men: what one climber felt as he fell off a cliff; what another sensed as he was buried by an avalanche. No one could know what these men felt in their last moments. They died alone and left no remembrances or witnesses. It is clear that Willis is either inferring from some other source, or making stuff up; however, he never goes to the trouble of telling the reader: hey, I'm speculating. This is questionably ethical and calls everything else into question. The most glaring example of this is a reconstruction of Joe Tasker's and Peter Boardman's deaths near the Three Pinnacles of Everest's Northeast Ridge. Willis recounts the episode factually, as though he'd interviewed God and God told him the entire sad tale. Willis writes that Tasker gave up, Boardman tried to help him, then gave up too. The fact is, no one knows what happened to these two men. Tasker's body was never found.

When I go to the mountains, everything else slips away. You are reduced to the primitive, fundamental aspects of life. You expend a great deal of energy melting snow for water; cooking food; staying dry; staying warm; keeping hydrated and covered. From dawn till dusk, you are moving with purpose, because there are always things to be done, and everything takes longer at altitude. You don't think of your life back home: the lost loves, your finances, your job, politics, sports. These things are pushed away. Indeed, you can't think of these things, because if you lose focus for even a moment, you can kick a bad step and find yourself sliding down a glacier. This is why I go to the mountains. Hilary put it best: It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.

Willis spends a lot of time trying to explain why his characters went to the mountains over and over, leaving behind their wives and girlfriends, often leaving their friends on the mountains. It's an honorable attempt, but his rationales are too ephemeral and abstract and fall short of Hilary's assessment. Indeed, an epigram at the start of the book concisely states what Willis takes 500 pages to do: Men who go to mountains are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.

The book could've used a lot more explanations of climbing tools and techniques. To fully enjoy it, you either need to do further reading or have a secondary source at hand. Willis never really explains what he means by pitons, prusik knots, running belays, and the like. I knew most of what he was talking about from my own limited experience, but I definitely could've used a little expansion on the foundations of my knowledge.

This story is a litany of dubious triumph and real tragedy. If you've never been to a mountain top, or had that desire, you won't understand what made these men go, even as they die one by one in the pursuit. Reading this book won't solve that riddle. However, if you can understand what drives these men, before you even crack the cover, then you will be treated to a strong retelling of some famous climbs (excepting, of course, Willis's recounting of their deaths, which can only be based on assumption and speculation).

The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation I've been reading climbing books for many years now and found that they can be rather variable. Books on Everest will tend to crop up quite often as Everest is perceived as the big challenged (kind of ignoring the many mountains that are actually harder in many ways).

While this is called the Boys of Everest and does focus to a substantial degree on the highest mountain it really is a book about a climbing generation - Bonington's boys. This is not a clearly defined group of people but those who tended to climb together quite often and were arguably the best UK climbers of a generation. I found that this perspective and from someone outside the group but with real climbing knowledge, worked well for me looking at different expeditions and mountains over maybe 25/30 years. In particular this book covers a real change in approach to climbing moving from large supported expeditions into far small alpine style summit attempts.

The stories are movingly told at times, the dead, the dying and the survivors all have their parts to play. As I've often found being a successful climber may well not make you a real team player and some of the characters do seem quite flawed as other books have suggested. If I have any complaint it would be that I think the author ran out of steam in the last 25% or thereabouts of the book. The level of detail diminished and became rather brief. However I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in this field of human endeavour - interesting insights. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation I liked this book because it gave me more detail on the technical aspects of climbing than most mountaineering tales do. On the other hand, it was odd that the author put thoughts and actions into the heads of dead men, trying to imagine, I guess, what they were thinking and feeling when they died climbing. Of course, we'd all like to know, but it takes it a bit far to actually imagine those thoughts and write them into the story as if they're part of the (non-fiction, supposedly) narrative.

Also, I have to admit I lost track every now and then of what mountain was being climbed ... was it Everest? K2? Annapurna? Dunagiri? Another? They were all climbed in this book, some more than once. I did especially enjoy the sections about climbs in the Alps ... those are rarely written about these days. The technical climbing is evidently quite difficult there, but because the altitude is less than the Himalayas, they are less written about in the past few decades. Less glory for the climbers, I guess.

Anyhow, if anyone is reading this review and can suggest other good mountain climbing tales, let me know. I've read a lot of them, but am always looking for more. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation

The Boys of Everest tells the story of a band of climbers who reinvented mountaineering during the three decades after Everest's first ascent. It is a story of tremendous courage, astonishing achievement and heart-breaking loss. Their leader was the boyish, fanatically driven Chris Bonington. His inner circle — which came to be know as Bonington's Boys — included a dozen who became climbing's greatest generation.

Bonington's Boys gave birth to a new brand of climbing. They took increasingly terrible risks on now-legendary expeditions to the world's most fearsome peaks. And they paid an enormous price for their achievements. Most of Bonington's Boys died in the mountains, leaving behind the hardest question of all: Was it worth it?

The Boys of Everest, based on interviews with surviving climbers and other individuals, as well as five decades of journals, expedition accounts, and letters, provides the closest thing to an answer that we'll ever have. It offers riveting descriptions of what Bonington's Boys found in the mountains, as well as an understanding of what they lost there. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation

FULLY yikes on this one. It's bad enough that Willis thinks he's Hemingway (he mostly writes in short, declarative sentences that -- unlike Hemingway's -- quickly made my eyes glaze over). I'd drop a quote here, but you'd stop reading. His prose is incredibly stiff and clunky, but that's not the biggest problem here. He also fails to adequately explain the effects of altitude on the human body and mind, or how our understanding of those things has changed since the time period he's writing about. Nor does he explain climbing techniques and equipment well. And we're STILL not to the biggest problem.

What I really have to condemn is Willis' failure to make clear when he's using source material, and when he's just imagining what the people he's writing about were thinking, feeling, and doing. There are no direct quotes in this book. None. There's no way for a reader to know what these people really thought and said, what they wrote in their diaries and letters, and what Willis fabricated.

This is incredibly disrespectful to the living, but it's even worse to do to the dead. I found Willis' choice to imagine not only what people were thinking as they died, but in some cases, HOW they died, grotesque and unethical. He doesn't even make it clear to the reader that that's what he's doing. He presents these scenes as fact. It's an erasure of real people and their real experiences. I hope that none of the loved ones these men left behind read this book, because I have to imagine it would be deeply painful, not to mention insulting.

Basically, this is a work of fiction written by a hack. If you want to read good non-fiction about mountaineering tragedies, check out Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day or Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation After having read some of the negative reviews here, I am almost reluctant to admit that I liked this book. I have read a LOT of books on mountaineering and have enjoyed just about all of them. I could tell as I read this that Willis was obviously inventing dialogue and describing scenes that no one could possibly know about, such as when a climber dies alone up in the snow and cold. This has enraged a lot of reviewers who only want to read works that are based on actual experience or firsthand accounts. That is fine and they should only read those books. But when we write or tell about our own experiences, don't we tend to gloss over things we did or said that we feel vaguely guilty about? Isn't it natural to make ourselves look a little better as we relate a story to friends or family, no matter what the story is about? It is natural. All I am saying is that even firsthand accounts are not a true and totally accurate depiction of events. Some people are more honest in memoirs or accounts than others. There can be several true versions of any event. Perhaps this book is less accurate than most, because he fills in material to deepen the descriptions, but that doesn't mean this book is a lie and all the others are the truth. They all reside somewhere on a scale of accuracy.

I seem to remember reading that Truman Capote received similar reviews when he wrote In Cold Blood, which was considered to be a new genre of book that he pioneered: a non-fiction novel. Now I am not saying the writing here is in Capote's league, but there have been a mountain of books, so to speak, that take actual events and retell them with parts filled in that are imagined as what might have taken place. These books range from straight historical fiction to books that are actually listed as non-fiction on book lists. Again, a sliding scale of accuracy.

I assume (perhaps naively) that the author bases at least some of the thoughts and feelings of the climbers represented here on their writings or, when possible, interviews with the climbers. In any case, these thoughts and feelings that he filled in made me think about what these men were going through much more than a straight retelling of each climb could do. And even though, as I said, Willis could have no way of knowing exactly how a climber died or what they felt or thought leading up to it, in the end I swallowed my disbelief because it was more interesting and thought-provoking than reading And he was never seen alive again several times.

I think it is probably accurate, if not specifically true each time, that at times these climbers' feelings soared while at other times they were miserable beyond belief. And that at times they were angry with their climbing partners and at other times they felt they loved them. So these depictions are most likely accurate but not specifically true as far as their thoughts are concerned - back to Capote's novelized non-fiction

These descriptions show some of the less admirable traits of some climbers, but overall it is a rousing tribute to them. I think part of the vehement reaction against it is because it is similar to one of those tell-all books of summit climbs (or any tell-all book). I am reminded of Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow, by Maria Coffey, which I have ordered and plan to read soon. She was married to climbing legend Joe Tasker. She apparently writes beyond the mystique and the comradery and bravery of the obsession that is competitive career mountaineering. After Tasker's death she discovered he had been unfaithful to her, as men often are in any line of work or social circle. So she wrote the book from a climber's loved one's point of view. She received a lot of flak around her book, but also a lot of support and encouragement.

There is always controversy when real people are represented in creative works and in creative fashion. I was bothered when the movie Cinderella Man came out, because it falsely represented the boxer Max Baer as a vicious thug. Actually he was a warm, generous person (except when he was punching you in the ring) who didn't really like hitting people but made a lot of money doing it. His son, the actor Max Baer, tried to set the record straight after the movie came out. But I don't believe this book falsifies events, misrepresents climbers or insults them. I think a grain of salt is required for most of the accounts of climbs and expeditions, and perhaps a larger grain of salt is needed for this one.

As for the quality of the writing, which has been trashed as well, I write novels and feel I am good at dialogue, and I found his scenes and conversation interesting and believable, though his prose is written in a fancier style than mine.

Hmm, talking about this has made me want to read In Cold Blood again. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation Interesting subject. Very comprehensive and detailed on the efforts of these adventurers. However, I was frustrated by the author's constant need to wax poetic on the thoughts of dying men. The presumption and creepiness of these lengthy monologues was off-putting as was the nasty swallowing sound the narrator kept making. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation The first part was quite interesting—especially about the Eiger.

But then it got very repetitive, with literal step-by-step accounts of every major climb Bonington and all his friends ever took. The stories got very samey…and thus, unfortunately, rather dull. Unless it was significant (which it sometimes was), I didn't really need to know exactly how many steps Guy A took or who was going back and forth between which camp when. Plus, I usually had no idea who was who, so it didn't matter as much as it should have.

The not knowing who was who seems to be a common thread in many other mountaineering and Polar exploring books I've read. I suppose it's the nature of the beast. Willis describes all these men—sometimes in great detail—but I still got them all mixed up, which made their successes, their interpersonal relationship, and even their deaths all less impactful.

But…I think my biggest problem is that he put so many thoughts in these men's heads. At first I kept thinking, Wow, these guys kept good journals on their expeditions to remember how many ice steps they carved on each leg and exactly what they were thinking about at each moment. And Willis sure had good access to all these tome-like journals! But then Willis started putting thoughts into dying men's heads, and I realized that he had to be inventing those thoughts. So…how many of the other thoughts and details did he invent? It cast into doubt the whole book. Beside the unreliability, I felt icky about him claiming these thoughts as non-fiction. It seems like misquoting. I wouldn't want anyone writing about my thoughts that way. It's not so bad if he interviewed them, wrote the book, and then ran it past the men. But he couldn't possibly have done that with the dead men, so I thought it quite disrespectful. I would have preferred something like, Was Guy A thinking of _____ or What did Guy B see as he slid… Did he imagine….

Like other mountain-climbing writing, this tends to get grandly, poetically philosophical, so over the top sometimes that it seems like a desperate attempt to convince the world that mountain climbing is about something deeper and more self-aware than it is. It just seemed odd, too, that most of the philosophy and grand moments of awakening were the same—down to the same turns of phrases sometimes—which led me to believe it was the author's philosophy of mountain-climbing and oblivion and self…not the philosophy of each individual who supposedly had these same thoughts. I'm not saying that such extreme pursuits—especially in rugged nature—do not lead to great awakenings and deep contemplation. I believe they do. But I don't believe Willis can speak for all the climbers he attempted to speak for, and I simply got tired of the pomposity.

The pacing was odd, too. Sometimes I'd sit through an hour (I was listening in audio) of step-by-step accounting of a climb, repetitive enough that I would zone out a bit and miss the part where someone fell or injured themselves or died—because that part was often not stretched or highlighted or made more dramatic than the rest of the climb. So then there was another fifteen minutes of talking philosophically about death and why climbers keep climbing, and I was like, Wait, who died and how?

I admire the research that went into this. Some of the accounts were quite thrilling, and I learned things. Some details were fascinating, and I ended up telling friends and family about those tidbits. I really think that if this book had been about a fourth the length, more focused on just three or four climbers through two or three of their most pivotal climbs—and less focused on thoughts the author couldn't possibly know—I would have really enjoyed it and rated it higher.

The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation (Book 7 of 2021) I didn't quite make it to the summit of this one. Doing the audiobook of about 16 hours and fell a few hours short. Definitely not the narrator's fault.

Having read some climbing books, most notably listening to this while simultaneously reading Krakauer's Into Thin Air, this one definitely fell short. Doing the audiobook, I'm sometimes distracted with a detail here or there. In this book, it meant I might go an hour without having any idea where the climbers were. The details were just too much. While I just figured out about 13 hours in I'd probably not finish, the reviews on here pointed on precisely why: way too much detail, especially for a writer who was not there. When done well the fictional aspect blends with the non-fiction and you believe what you are reading. I mostly did in this one but I can easily agree with the criticism.

I always gain a little something from a book, even one I do not quite finish. I had previously not heard of some of the mountains these men climbed, namely Eiger. I'm still gaining traction on climbing lingo and there are some nice descriptions of piton use here (though after several books I simply googled pitons and got a much better feel for how they work).

At 16 hours, the book itself must be quite long. That's a little testament to some historical research done by Willis, but also an indictment on his long descriptions that do not necessarily move the story along. And that's why I've stalled out some 300m from the summit. Maybe next time. The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbings Greatest Generation