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Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit
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Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  611 ratings  ·  68 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
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Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published (first published May 8th 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,437)
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Sarah O'Toole
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
Stephen
What a stunningly good book! In an age of dodgy politicans, greedy bankers, money-grubbers and profiteers, Wayne Rooney, X-Factor and disposable junk culture in general, reading something like this is a total balm for the senses. The book is so obviously a labour of love for McFarlane and it is this passion for his subject that elevates(excuse the pun!)his writing. I really like the way he shares his passion with the reader. There isn't the remotest hint of showmanhip or a sense that he is writi ...more
Robert
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.
Jan
Jul 19, 2009 Jan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
J.
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
Paul Stevenson
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.
Jim
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.
Victoria Mier
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
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.
Katherine Simmons
The way in which folks prepared for these climbs on some of the mountain peaks is unbelievable especially the amount of alcohol taken along, I'm surprised they could walk straight let alone climb Everest or Mont Blanc. However the pull that mankind has always had regarding unexplored places or to reduce the world by conquering is strong and the exploration is what Macfarlane explores in this book.

The stories of how we came to explore the mountains run parallel with his own tales of walking and c
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Paul
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!
Andy
A thrilling mixture of intellectual and physical adventure, seeing clouds from both sides, as it were.
Agnese
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
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Lindindin
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
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AE 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 (
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Martin Glen
A curious and ultimately satisfying meditation on the draw of mountains and mountaineering, tied to a potted history of the pastime from its birth back in the 18th century. If you want a bit of insight into why people climb mountains (and often die on them), this may help. The author's personal insights and biographical stories are illuminating, and he adopts a meditative tone which contrasts well with the stark seriousness of the enterprises he describes.
Faisal  Buzdar
It took me almost a year to finish this book. I would put it down and pick up another one and wouldn't come back to it until I had devoured many more in between. Somehow, I battled with getting into it. Not that Macfarlane is not an impressive writer or that it's a clumsy work, but it is the overly scholarly tone of the book I have issues with. At times, it becomes a very pretentious and dramatically poetic account of the evolution of our interest in the mountains. There are a few chapters, whic ...more
Ajala Habib
Tell love you are going to Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.

2. Tell love you want a momento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someon
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Claire Smith
More enjoyable than I expected, not being interested in mountain climbing. Macfarlane's style definitely helps, easy-to-read and with a great balance of facts, stories, and personal opinions. It's a short but fascinating read.
Peter
I'm sure it's not really a 'bad book' but it was just too heavy going for me. You need to concentrate to read it and I failed to do that so after several attempts and eventually gave up.
Sophie
Most descriptive book I have ever read and that's been a few. Truly, the descriptions, metaphors, true stories along with facts here are presented excellently and really flow as well. It's not your average book on mountaineering. Also has personal experience. I bought this for my dad but I ended up borrowing it but had to give it back as it was a present! Hence one reason why I havent finished it, the other reason being that I don't want to finish it it's that good and I dont want to rush it and ...more
Angela
Have been reading several of Robert Macfarlane's books, this is part history of the growth of interest in the mountains and developing knowledge about the geology combined with a personal travelogue and reflections on the influence and draw they have to climbers and travelers alike. The chapters on Mallory's three attempts on Everest were all the more alive since letters home and Robert's own reflections on the draw of climbing provided a very human rather than a detatched view of the events. I ...more
Oanh
Enjoyed this sort of history, sort of travelogue, sort of philosophising about the obsession with mountains.

I like mountains but I doubt that I will ever throw my life at one: too much sense? too much fear? not enough obsession/passion? Also, not enough skill.

Mountains of the Mind isn't quite as gripping as a discrete tale of adventure on the big mountains (aka The Vertical Limit; Touching the Void etc) but a more academic and introspective approach; an attempt to answer ,"Why?" with more than
...more
Paul
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matt
A must read for anyone with an interest in mountaineering. Macfarlane seems as comfortable discussing 17th century alpinism as he is walking on the very same slopes. After passing through the first few relatively dry chapters of geology, I found myself immersed in the psyche of the mountaineer, and Macfarlane excels at detailing the 'history of the fascination' whilst also recounting his own experiences. The final chapter I couldn't stop reading, with a studied look at Mallory's doomed attempts ...more
sisterimapoet
I've lived most of my life on very solid and even ground. I avoid even the slightest hill. And yet I was drawn to this - I liked the idea of armchair mountain climbing - I liked the idea of mountains in the mind.

It does what it claims and does it well. Some criticism is that MacFarlane is too whimsical in his love and description of mountains - but that is what I hoped for and what I got.

I feel I've learned a lot about mountains and the relationship between them and humanity through history - bu
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Demonhedgehog
A beautiful and informative read. A quirky insight into our relatively short history of exploring mountains. I felt genuinely inspired to stand upon a glacier, was stunned at the exploits of Coleridge and thoroughly enjoyed the many 'of course!' moments within this highly original text. The accounts of journeys are more emotional than detailed and historical; it is unlike any other book on exploration I have encountered. More a study of what exactly compels climbers to climb - a strangely flowin ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
I read this at the seaside, a very different location from the fascinating heights described here. Still, there were times when Macfarlane's meticulous, thoughtful account of western civilisation's obsession with high places elevated me to sublime musings of my own. Best of all, Macfarlane is balanced, deploring the suicidal zeal of mountaineers like George Mallory while anatomising and evoking the glamour that drew them on. Informed by scholarship, wide reading and rich personal experience, thi ...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...
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot The Wild Places Holloway Silt Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature

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“Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.” 64 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.” 49 likes
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