Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
The story of George Mallory, would-be and possible first (known) conqueror of the world's tallest mountain, is perhaps easily forgotten in the age of
ever-increasing commercialization. In the wake of recent tragedies, however, it
seems wise and timely to remember that ascending the mountain has always been
an exceptionally difficult task. In Into
the Silence, Wade Davis provides detailed descriptions of the first three
British expeditions to this particular region of the Himalaya
and attempts to place those attempts into the context of the interwar period. He
succeeds quite admirably on the first account but, sadly, falls a bit short of
The author's attempts to recall the war do offer informative insights into the psyches of the men who took part in the reconnaissance and climbing efforts of 1921, 1922, and 1924, but they tend to stand apart, interspersed with the main story yet simultaneously outside of it. These capsule biographies- which often focus on the war- appear throughout the volume, usually accompanying an early mention of a major figure, but seem to taper off toward the end of the volume, even as new (pivotal) characters make their initial appearances. They also have the annoying propensity to blend together, making it easy to forget who was who and driving the reader to lump all of the biographies together as something akin to "terrible experiences at the front."
has an uncanny ability to evoke the sights and sounds of the Western Front, as well
as the attitudes that led to widespread British support of the war effort and the
appallingly outdated tactics that effectively doomed a generation, but he never
effectively links the war to the Everest expeditions. Sure, he states outright
several times that there was a connection, and indeed it is evident in some of
the personalities he describes, but he never actually ties them together. As a
reader, I don't mind doing some of the legwork myself, but when the thesis is
essentially the title of the book- and mentioned repeatedly throughout, no
less- I expect a bit more active effort on behalf of the author.
The writing itself is, at its best, remarkably vivid, respectful, and emotional, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention its primary flaw.
relies so heavily on the phrase even as that
I began noticing every occurrence- and believe me, there are a lot of them- only a few pages into the
book. Worse, he doesn't seem to be aware what the phrase actually means and
implies, using it constantly as a substitute for the simple, yet accurate, as. That phrase does not mean what he
thinks it means, and it often makes the text burdensome.
Grammatical gripe aside, however, the book is quite compelling from start to end. Davis's decision to include a sketched history of British interaction with Everest from the Survey of India's first sightings to the treatment of Mallory's corpse in 1999, as well as additional context about the history of Tibet and relevant figures and legends of Tibetan Buddhism, does place the early-20s expeditions in context, though some of that context does suffer from heavy implication and light actual treatment. Overall, Into the Silence is an excellent and engaging history of the Mallory expeditions.