Into the Silence by Wade Davis

An epic history of adventure and adversity, of one man and a nation’s quest for redemption.

In Into the Silence, Wade Davis (The Wayfinders, The Serpent and the Rainbow) portrays several attempts to climb Mount Everest during the 1920s within the context of the state of the British Empire after the First World War. With the benefit of new access to primary sources, he begins with visceral descriptions of the Great War in all its horrifying violence, as seen through the eyes of several players in the later Everest drama, and then follows these men through the postwar numbness of a Britain that had lost the bulk of a generation. Davis makes a convincing argument that the assault on Everest was “the ultimate gesture of imperial redemption.”

George Mallory was the star of three successive attempts to summit a mountain that was at the time a complete mystery–its weather patterns and geography entirely unknown, the cultures that surrounded it viewed by the British with a misguided paternalism. Along with a host of fellow climbers, adventurers and scientists, Mallory was driven toward an accomplishment that the nation came to grasp as an outlet for its frustrations and a hopeful liberating triumph. While he was the principal character in the eyes of his contemporaries and in history, the other explorers also receive well-deserved and detailed attention in Davis’s account.

Into the Silence is a book about mountaineering and a respectable adventure epic with all the alpinist details, but it’s also so much more: a heartbreaking portrayal of war; the story of more than a dozen individuals whose lives were rocked by a war and a mountain; and finally, a history of a nation watching its own imperial era come to an end.


This review originally ran in the November 4, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

One Response

  1. […] for what it’s worth, Pops, I enjoyed Davis’s Into the Silence years ago, and credit him with engaging writing, although my memory is dim beyond that, I’m […]

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