By Wade Davis
Knopf, $32.50, 655 pages
When British mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared into a cloud bank as they ascended Mount Everest in June 1924, as they attempted to be the first climbers to reach the 29,000 foot summit, they left behind a generation shaken by a world war. Author Wade Davis chronicles the ill-fated expedition in his exhaustive tome Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest. While Davis’s 578-page book sometimes drifts into the tedium of over-analysis, he does tell a good story and his passion for Everest, Mallory and a lost generation is infectious: “Noel Odell, a brilliant climber in support, last saw [Mallory and Irvine] alive at 12:50 p.m., faintly from a rocky crag: two small objects moving up the ridge. As the mist rolled in, enveloping their memory in myth, he was the only witness. Mallory and Irvine would not be seen or heard from again.”
“Mallory and Irvine may not have reached the summit of Mount Everest, but they did, on that fateful day, climb higher than any human being before them, reaching heights that would not be attained again for nearly thirty years. … They had seen so much of death that life mattered less than the moments of being alive.”
In referencing related diaries and letters, Davis suggests that the expedition was inspired by imperialist idealisms and analyzes the expeditions that came both before and after the fated duo to explore the impetus of human passion and determination. Much more than a journalist’s recounting of an unfortunate end, Into the Silence is a compelling look at history, humanity and the adventures that drive us forward.
Reviewed by Jennie A. Harrop