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Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  1,099 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Combining accounts of legendary mountain ascents with vivid descriptions of his own forays into wild, high landscapes, Robert McFarlane reveals how the mystery of the world’s highest places has came to grip the Western imagination—and perennially draws legions of adventurers up the most perilous slopes.
His story begins three centuries ago, when mountains were feared as the
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published (first published May 8th 2003)
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Three centuries ago, no one was interested in mountains and other wild places. The land could not be cultivated, nor was there any point in possessing them and the people who inhabited these heights were considered a lesser human. They were considered no go areas. But in the middle of the Eighteenth century, this perception of the mountain began to change. The premise of the sublime, the balance point of fear and exhilaration that could be achieved when climbing, coupled with the sense that the ...more
Sarah O'Toole
Jan 14, 2012 Sarah O'Toole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was so enchanting. It felt like being brought into another world with a fascinating multi-faceted guide, who was a mountaineer, scholar, nature-lover, avid reader and, most importantly, a poet. I couldn’t believe he was so young when he wrote the book. His use of language to bring me into regions explored, read about and imagined often took my breath away, engaging all the senses and making me wonder what these marvels would be like to experience first hand. I love the way the book is ...more
This book not only helped me to further understand my own fascination with mountains and mountaineering but also helped me to see the landscape and the pursuit in new lights, only furthering my love for mountains.
Jun 29, 2009 Jan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes mountains
It's a miracle that the ranks of people who have scaled mountains and rambled around hilltops count one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read -- a man totally perceptive to the impact that mountains have had on a human psyche, and also able to get across so richly the impact that they have had on his own. Robert MacFarlane cannot write two sentences without a stunning and meaningful turn of phrase, and his appetite for the vistas of nature matches the nuance of the historical research h ...more
Jo Bennie
Jun 28, 2012 Jo Bennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: m
A wonderful read that is not just for those who feel the need to climb higher and go further than others have gone before, but also for those like me who are content to learn about the seemingly contradictory addictive drive for glory and zen like pursuit of inner enlightenment that makes up that drive. This is not just a well written book about mountains, it is about how Western society has changed its attitudes towards mountains through history. McFarlane speaks of the early accounts of travel ...more
Jan 15, 2015 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015, walking
Really struggled with this at times, the geology parts and MacFarlane's personal mountain experiences were interesting, unfortunately there was not much on this, the bulk of the book was the history of mountain climbing and this is where I had issues. It felt messy, jumping about in time mentioning a bit here and there about a climber, quoting a bit from a book and chucking in a bit more of his personal experience. Things change when he gets to the chapter on Everest and he focuses on the one cl ...more
Jul 20, 2015 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
George Mallory, who may have been the first person to climb to the top of Mount Everest, was asked why he was motivated to do so. This book answers the question, both for Mallory and for everyone else (the author included) who walks in mountains, be they less than 1000 metres or more than 8000 metres high.
Macfarlane has produced a wonderful amalgam of biography, autobiography, science, social history, natural history, psychology, and so forth. This, his first book, displays his characteristicall
Feb 17, 2013 J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mcfarlane has written a book on the fascination with mountains and has provided us with a survey of the associative literature, history and personal accounts. He documents the changing attitudes of men to mountains. He tries to answer the question 'Why do people still go to mountains? He answers this by showing us images, emotions and metaphors. "The way you read landscapes and interpret them is a function of what you carry into them with you, and of cultural tradition. I think that happens in e ...more
Fascinating history of mountain climbing and the obsession especially of western Europeans with scaling the highest peaks in the world. I learned that it was Thomas Burnet, a Church of England churchman and philosopher, who studied and examined the surface of the earth and creation of mountains to the extent that he basically started the science of geology. His book, "The Sacred Theory of the Earth", published in 1681 began the examination of how mountains formed and how the surface of the earth ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Jim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hmm, yes, writing style. This boy was too learned and it showed. I'm not sure if he meant it too, but again I couldn't engage with his philosophising over mountaineering. Even while much of it was about Mont Blanc and Chamonix which is where I was reading it. I'm writing this about two weeks later and I'm buggered if I can remember much about the book at all. Another one lying under my bed with a hundred pages to go and an appointment with ebay looming before I get to finish it.
Rob Ward
Clearly well researched but packed with a lengthy history of geology and views from the 18th and 19th centuries which, while vaguely interesting, fell well short of what I hoped to find in this book. Mountains capture the imaginations of so many people because they inspire and challenge. I hope this book would inspire me with stories and accomplishments. It did in part only.
Sep 07, 2015 Yvonne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A most fascinating history of mountains and mountaineering but I didn't find it an easy read. It is full of interesting facts and descriptions and is very different from other mountain climbing accounts. Erudite, philosophical and beautifully written, it explores man's 'fixation with dizzy heights'.
Jul 03, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read about the Western fascination with mountains and mountain-climbing over the last 400 years. Some of the stories are thoroughly eye-watering and vertigo-inducing so I shall remain an armchair enthusiast!
Paul Stevenson
Feb 06, 2014 Paul Stevenson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and engaging theory on the reasons people are attracted to mountaineering despite the intrinsic danger. Cohesive, thorough and beautifully balanced with personal and relevant climbing trips, it will doubtless be fuel for thought when I am next in that space.
Jan 29, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure-travel
I really enjoyed this and got so much from it, mountaineering, adventure, literature, history. Just a beautiful awe-inspiring exploration of the natural environment and man's obsession with it.
Oct 22, 2012 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thrilling mixture of intellectual and physical adventure, seeing clouds from both sides, as it were.
A.E. Reiff
In projected volumes Macfarlane proposes to take up valleys, deserts and oceans of the mind. These sound plausible as any "collaboration of the physical forms of the world with the imagination of humans--a mountain of the mind" (18, 19). The value of collaboration is this, we can have mountains, valleys and even air, but minus the ecologic waste. Keep the mountain wild by making it over into ourselves. More wild by far.

How are we more wild than the mountain? The human self emotes its anthropos (
Oct 23, 2016 Doug rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quit-reading
I made it to page 55 last night and it was painful to get there. I don't know where this book is going, but I am not going with it.
Blair Barrows
Feb 17, 2017 Blair Barrows rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slow moving, yet fascinating history of our fascination with mountains. The descriptions are beautifully written!! Lots of underlining in this book for sure.
Erin Block
Jan 15, 2017 Erin Block rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction—so easy to lapse into—that the world has been made for humans, by humans." p.274
Jan 29, 2017 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Macfarlane's first book - a history of the cultural perception of mountains - meanders through histories of geology, the Sublime, mountaineering, Romanticism, and ends with a compelling rendition of Mallory's three attempts on Everest.

Macfarlane's own passion for mountaineering is clearly the root of this inquiry, which lends a greater sense of authenticity to both the ideas and the prose. Fascinating histories, engaging stories, and insights that resonate.
Ian Brydon
May 15, 2015 Ian Brydon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Macfarlane has a great ability to convey his passions without proselytising, and without ever boring readers who don't feel the same degree of obsession. Earlier in the year I read, and was entranced by, his beautiful exploration of ancients routes that have survived into the modern day, "The Old Ways". I had wondered if my enjoyment of that book was, in part at least, driven by my own burgeoning interest in walking as a pastime. However, my enjoyment of this book is not in any way a refl ...more
3.5. Good, but not nearly as poetic as Macfarlane's The Old Ways.
Derek Collett
I was very much looking forward to reading this because I understood it to be a history of mountaineering and/or mountain exploration. It's not. In fact, it is an extended rumination on mountains and their place in the public consciousness down the ages, with diversions into the fields of philosophy, art, literature and science.

The book kicks off promisingly. Macfarlane explains how he first became interested in mountains (and climbing them) because of his grandparents' connection with mountaine
Carl Nelson
Sep 21, 2016 Carl Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: outdoors-memoir
Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind: How Desolate and Forbidding Heights Were Transformed into Experiences of Indomitable Spirit is a beautiful celebration of the highest peaks. With lyrical prose, the author covers geology, history, and explorers of mountains, as well as some of his personal experiences on the slopes.

Mountains of the Mind outlines how, for most of human history, mountains represented the fearful and the unknown. Macfarlane tells of the forces that shaped the mountains, th
Aug 05, 2011 Agnese rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mountains
An interesting book that explains how the perception of mountains and mountaineering has changed over the centuries inspiring people to explore the most impervious regions and try and reach the highest summits facing unknown and unpredictable dangers. However, I find it at times too pretentious in style, at times too emphatic in descriptions. Some interpretations are presented as certain truth when they are just the author’s opinions, other are overly dramatic. The idea that the people who contr ...more
Tom Poth
First off let me say although I rated this book three stars I think I got out of it so much more than many other higher per rated books and was very happy I read it.
So let me start with what I liked. Recently despite not being a climber, I've been super interested in climbing and the people who pursue the sport thus I came upon this book. Being an anthropology graduate I found that this book read in many ways like an anthropology account of a different people, those people being climbers. It wa
Jul 01, 2013 Lindindin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
had bought the book around Christmas and read the first three quarters really quickly, then put it down because life happened and only picked it up to finish it last week.

The book is both a personal loveletter to mountains and mountaineering and a short history of mountaineering in the Western world in general. I realised pretty early into the book that I actually knew very little about that history and that it is rather interesting. Macfarlane peppers his historical discourses with anecdotes fr
Dec 06, 2016 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is seldom that I wish there were more stars available to sing the praises of a special book.
In a time in our world of fear and anxiety for our collective future where leaders in waiting deny the reality of the dire condition of our plant and that global warming is a fraud; this book is a love affair with high places and wilderness, expressed in the most sublime prose one may find in any book or article. I had heard of Macfarlane through an article in the Guardian and when at my library book s
Victoria Mier
Oct 31, 2014 Victoria Mier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Robert Macfarlane's writing - I love his view of the world and the way he writes about it. He combines his deep love of both the natural world and literature and ties them together - my two favourite things in the world, and he opens up each by bringing them together. He wears his research lightly, writing with a kind of understated passion, which seems contradictory but he is passionate without being effusive, understated without selling short. He brings together intellectual and sensual ...more
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Robert Macfarlane is a British travel writer and literary critic.

Educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge and Magdalen College, Oxford, he is currently a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge.
More about Robert Macfarlane...

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“Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.” 159 likes
“Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into - that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.” 94 likes
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