Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes

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The first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa teammate Tenzing Norgay is a familiar saga, but less well known are the tales of many other adventurers who also came to test their skills and courage against the world’s highest and most dangerous mountains. In this lively and generously illustrated book, historians Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver present the first comprehensive history of Himalayan mountaineering in fifty years. They offer detailed, original accounts of the most significant climbs since the 1890s, and they compellingly evoke the social and cultural worlds that gave rise to those expeditions.

The book recounts the adventures of such figures as Martin Conway, who led the first authentic Himalayan climbing expedition in 1892; Fanny Bullock Workman, the pioneer explorer of the Karakoram range; George Mallory, the romantic martyr of Mount Everest fame; Charlie Houston, who led American expeditions to K2 in the 1930s and 1950s; Ang Tharkay, the legendary Sherpa, and many others. Throughout, the authors discuss the effects of political and social change on the world of mountaineering, and they offer a penetrating analysis of a culture that once emphasized teamwork and fellowship among climbers, but now has been eclipsed by a scramble for individual fame and glory.

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Editorial Reviews

Bruce Barcott
The authors tease out the evolution of modern mountaineering, combining vivid storytelling with an eye for detail, accuracy and fairness…Fallen Giants is the book of a lifetime for its authors, an awe-inspiring work of history and storytelling. They've scoured mountaineering archives in India, Germany, Britain and the United States, and drawn from nearly 500 books and articles, from the famous to the obscure. Their endnotes and bibliography run to more than 100 pages. Isserman and Weaver brilliantly present the complete picture—the political context, the changing social dynamics, the emergence of modern climbing technique—without losing sight of the need to entertain. Fallen Giants absolutely brims with vivid characters, from the Duke of the Abruzzi to George Mallory to Aleister Crowley (Mr. 666, a Himalayan climber—who knew?) to Tenzing Norgay to Reinhold Messner, hard men and egotists, saints and scoundrels. Armchair mountaineers will give the book pride of place in their collections. A word, though: keep it on a low shelf, where boys and girls can discover it and start dreaming of their own expeditions.
—The New York Times

"This survey history establishes base camp for readers interested in the history of Himalayan climbing expeditions. Its strength lies in the way it puts each undertaking within the context of evolving styles of high-altitude mountaineering."—Booklist

New York Times Book Review

"Fallen Giants is the book of a lifetime . . . an awe-inspiring work of history and storytelling. . . . Armchair mountaineers will give the book pride of place in their collections."—Bruce Barcott, New York Times Book Review

— Bruce Barcott


"It''s difficult to find fault with this exceptionally well-written tome, a must-read for any fan of climbing literature."—Kathleen A. Ervin, Failure

— Kathleen A. Ervin

Foreward Magazine

"Heroism, death, and drama abound. . . . The author''s thoroughness and range make this hefty volume nearly encyclopedic in scope; the details on the ''how'' of climbing, the no-margin-for-error experience, and the bonus of Vittorio Sella''s unmatched photographs make for a great book."—Foreward Magazine (Outstanding University Press Books 2008)

The Atlantic Monthly

"Heroism, death, and drama abound. . . . The author''s thoroughness and range make this hefty volume nearly encyclopedic in scope; the details on the ''how'' of climbing, the no-margin-for-error experience, and the bonus of Vittorio Sella''s unmatched photographs make for a great book."—Foreward Magazine (Outstanding University Press Books 2008)

Journal of American History

"A deeply researched and comprehensive treatment of mountaineering in the Himalaya that is an engaging narrative and an illuminating analysis of larger themes."--Mark Harvey, Journal of American History

— Mark Harvey

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300164206
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/23/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 820,738
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Maurice Isserman

Maurice Isserman is James L. Ferguson Professor of History, Hamilton College. He lives in Clinton, NY. Stewart Weaver is professor of history, University of Rochester. He lives in Rochester, NY. Both authors are enthusiastic hikers and mountain climbers.
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Table of Contents

Preface: A Fallen Giant

1 When Men and Mountains Meet 1

2 The Age of Empire, 1892-1914 33

3 "Because It Is There": George Mallory and the Fight for Everest, 1921-1924 83

4 "A Random Harvest of Delight," 1929-1933 127

5 "Himalayan Hey-Day," 1934-1939 165

6 The Golden Age Postponed, 1940-1950 223

7 "Don't Be a Chicken-Hearted Fellow": Everest, 1950-1953 254

8 The Golden Age of Himalayan Climbing, 1953-1960 295

9 New Frontiers, New Faces, 1961-1970 350

10 The Age of Extremes, 1971-1996 398

Notes 455

Bibliography 539

Index 565

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