Cover Image: Mountains and Desire

Mountains and Desire

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Member Reviews

This book read more like a thesis than the nonfiction styles I am used to. The prose was artful and engaging, and included a number of relevant quotes from climbers through history. I found it difficult to read all at once because I wanted to fully appreciate the writing style and I worried that by rushing through, I would miss information. 

It wonders at why we are drawn to climb mountains in the first place, and whether commercialization detracts from the experience. There are interesting comparisons drawn between climbers of different eras and styles (rock climbers and mountaineers are not, in my mind, of the same ilk). Of course no conversation about the 8000m mountains would be complete without discussing the number of dead bodies littering the slopes (and the bodies never found). The author wonders if there would be fewer bodies if humans weren’t strangely drawn to stand on the topmost point of every mountain in the world.

I found it a fascinating read, taken in small doses. Unexpectedly, I didn’t come away with a clear answer and explanation on why exactly it is that we climb, the question asked climbers over and over since the beginning.
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So this is a tiny book that examines different aspects of climbing and mountaineering from a perspective situated in the humanities. It reads like a cool little humanities lecture and the audiobook is less than three hours long so it could sound like a cool humanities lecture too.

The semi-academic tone and perspective of this piece was fantastic. Grebowicz uses language and conceptual tools from academia (specially the humanities - the phrase “semiotic terrain” was on the first page) and uses them to think theoretically about climbing without being too dense or intellectually demanding for laymen. This let Grebowicz explore so many interesting theories that you don’t often find in general media like summiting’s relationship to capitalism and the psyches it produces, what enhancements are used to climb and whether this affects the ‘purity’ of a climb and the spectator’s relationship to climbers. It was at its best when Grebowicz grounded her conceptual thinking with disciplines like geography or biology. 

I occasionally felt not enough time was devoted to certain ideas. Grebowicz would write something like an introduction to an idea or even a bunch of topic sentences without unpacking and explaining her ideas. Although for a book this short, I imagine some concessions concerning depth have to be made. When Grebowicz gave time to explore her ideas more fully though, this book became a wonderful blend of history, science, philosophy and cultural critique.

This book balances a range of perspectives about climbing remarkably well. For example, it discusses climbing as an extension and projection of the capitalistic desire to forever move upward and forward. On the other hand, it shows that for some people climbing is in fact an escape from this culture. Showing multiple perspectives concerning climbing and allowing the reader to evaluate and formulate their own stance towards climbing is a sound ethical choice for those already invested in climbing. However, this book assumes that climbing is already a large part of a reader’s life and cultural imagination and if it is not, it is difficult to come away from this book with any sort of conclusion. But I was the one who picked up a book about mountains so that’s probably my own fault. I do admire Grebowicz’s commitment to complicating binary perspectives concerning climbing though, Grebowicz does not take any of the easy ways out nor does she allow any of her readers to do so.

On the whole this was a fantastic conceptual book, if you are interested in mountains at all or even if you aren’t and just like thinking conceptually about landscapes (as a decidedly indoorsy person this was the category I fell under) OR if you have a humanities essay to write about mountains and climbing this is well worth a read.
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I’ve really been on a mountaineering kick lately and this book addresses a lot of the issues I’ve been mulling over regarding my interest in the field, why people climb, and what role it plays culturally. Really interesting and great read.
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An extremely interesting dive into the psychology, culture and philosophy of mountaineering and climbing. The book takes a measured approach — never coming down particularly hard on one side of the ideological fence, while at the same time clearly stating its intentions.
I have absolutely no interest in mountain climbing, and yet I found myself entirely enthralled by this.
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A fascinating look at the culture and psychology of mountain climbing, Mountains and Desire covers all the bases in a quick and punchy read. Grebowicz asks (and sometimes puts forth an answer to) all the tough questions: Why do people climb Mt. Everest at all? And why would anyone risk doing it without oxygen? Or in the winter? What is it that climbers are really after? And what will become of the sport when the last frontier of the Himalayas--a winter ascent of K2--is in the books?

Grebowicz also gets briefly into some of the social considerations of the sport, and these were the aspects I liked the most. She talks about how easy it is to purchase access to an Everest ascent for even the most inexperienced climbers (but also how those with the most money can afford the exhibitions with the least environmental impact). She also draws on Pam Sailor's work to discuss the summiteer vs. mountaineer distinction that gets at how some people can climb right past others clearly in mortal distress without rendering even the most basic aid, or break the most fundamental rules and leave slower members of the group behind, even presumably to their deaths. As Australia closed Uluru to climbing to protect a sacred site of its indigenous population and the US imposed a voluntary climbing ban on Devil's Tower for the same reason, did these policies actually result in what they were intended to? What has been the impact on the surrounding communities? What would happen to the economy around Mt. Everest if it were closed to climbing? 

Overall, super good book. I wish it were a little more in-depth in some of these areas and had a more cohesive arc to it, but I do highly recommend it!

Much thanks to Repeater Books, the author, and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for the review.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advance view of this - it struck me as a fascinating add to the genre. As noted by another reviewer, what made this more interesting was the possible overlap in aims with Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind; and indeed this makes a fine pair with that volume. The add from this volume I felt was the depth of investigation into wider societal impact and the motivation behind particular climbers (as well as drawing a neat distinction on those collecting summits for the sake of it versus traditional climbing as a motivation). Highly recommended - if you enjoyed Macfarlane's book, this complements well.
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Ever since George Mallory gave his famous quote "Because it's there" when asked why he would climb Mt. Everest, that answer, or very close variations of this answer, has been part of every climber's reason to take the chance and attempt to scale not only Everest, but so many other dangerous mountains and cliffs.  This book by Margret Grebowicz not only explores why this drives so many people but also explores the future of the sport as social, environmental and economic changes have affected attitudes toward mountaineering.  

When Grebowicz started the book by making connections to the culture of climbing to various movies, it felt like this would be a scholarly research book with a lot of theories with facts to back them up, but that would not be a fair categorization.  While yes, it has this quality throughout the book, there are so many different ways Grebowicz expresses the ways in which climate change and capitalism have changed many of these expeditions.  This is especially true for Everest - for example, the complaints of the debris left behind on the commercial climbs that are very popular, but it also is true for other climbs and mountains.  Two examples are her excellent chapter on K2, considered to be far more dangerous a climb than Everest and Alex Honnold's "Free Solo" climb - both a narrative and a discussion on the movie.

Another reason why it would not be correct to simply label this book as a scholarly type is because some of the passages are truly entertaining and thought-provoking.  One in particular that stuck with me was when she quoted Pam Sailor's work on the philosophy of climbing.  Sailors is quoted in the book as writing about "two types of climbers, summiteers and mountaineers."  The former is more goal-oriented and self-oriented while the latter is more process-oriented and "may show moral responsibility for the welfare of others."  This is just one of the many passages on the thoughts and psychology behind the climbing culture.

Any reader who enjoys books on climbing or mountains will surely enjoy this excellent book that is both excellent for its writing on the history of the sport as well as its current state and what the future may hold from the perspective of the minds of those who participate. 

I wish to thank Repeater Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I, like many others, read accounts of people summiting Mt. Everest and cannot help but ask “why”? I am fascinated by the draw and the harrowing stories. This book pays homage to those who have done it and in some small way, seeks to answer the questions the rest of us are asking. I appreciate the insights shared by other climbers and some of the photographs included. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley and all opinions expressed are my own, freely given.
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This work sits in an odd Venn diagram overlap - those who are interested in mountains and mountain-climbing, and the history and ethics around them, and academic writing and fan theory. I'm in this overlap, so I adored this - knowing the history and texture of Himalayan climbing made Grebowicz's non-chronological, theory-based approach work for me. I think the only work that overlaps is Robert McFarlane's Mountains of the Mind, but this has a sharper edge, and the delineation Grebowicz makes between why mountains were climbed, and the way they are climbed today - in terms of mental framing, not technique - is clear and fascinating. Mountains of the mind, indeed.
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This book covers all aspects of climbing culture! There are chapters about the commercialization of Everest, Alex Honnold's Free Solo, early alpinists such as Messner, and more. As such, I found this book to be a little disjointed. Although I enjoyed the content of each chapter, the book as a whole didn't tell a cohesive story. I would recommend this book to avid fans of mountain climbing and climbing books.
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Pushing the limits of human boundaries will always be forefront of adventures.  This book explains why I avid climbers feel the need to do it.  I enjoyed it immensely.  I would also recommend it for anyone else.
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