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On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  340 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
What compels mountain climbers to take the risks that they do? Is it the thrill in the physical accomplishment, in managing to defy the odds, or both -- and why do they continue to do what they do in the face of such great danger? In On the Ridge Between Life and Death, David Roberts confronts these questions head-on as he recounts the exhilarating highs and desperate lows ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Simon & Schuster (first published August 23rd 2005)
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Sharon Watkins
I am a sucker for mountaineering books; I can't get enough of them. So I thought I had a winner in this book, in which David Roberts promises to tackle the difficult issue of why people keep climbing when it is so dangerous and so many climbers, even highly skilled and experienced ones, lose their lives. What a disappointment. On the Ridge Between Life and Death is instead a catalog of Roberts' 13 expeditions to Alaska, interspersed with occasional musings on the deaths of climbing partners and ...more
Oct 04, 2007 Pat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Krakauer fans, climbers
I met Roberts in Boulder when he was researching this memoir. I'd forgotten about it until recently, when a friend died climbing in Alaska -- the scene of many of the author's greatest accomplishments. On the Ridge is his reassessment, from the vantage of his 60s, of a climbing life (and the deaths of many friends) and whether it was all worth it. It isn't great literature -- Roberts' language is too often overwrought, but when he hits his stride, he's a fine storyteller and a thoughtful memoiri ...more
Sep 22, 2012 Chhaya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm in two minds about this climbing memoir. On the one hand, the writing was overwrought and navel-gazey and there was this unnecessary and weird second chapter on his high school sexcapades. And I actually just didn't like the guy through most of the book because I found him to be irresponsible and selfish. He has a great adventure story to tell but he doesn't always tell it that well and he clutters it up with too much other stuff.

That said, the reason to read this book is the last chapter in
This is the best book I've read in a long, long time. In this book, David Roberts seeks to answer two questions: Why do we climb and is it worth the risk? To the former, he seems to think people climb for ego and pride. To the later, he seems to think it isn't. After all the friends he lost in the mountains, it's easy to see why. To me, climbing is about exploring. I don't really care to climb things that have never been climbed before. I just want to see what's around the next corner or over th ...more
Mar 10, 2015 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: climbing
I thought this was going to be a book about the meaning of life/ climbing/ lost friends...

A little of that, but mostly the author recounting (bragging) about all the climbs he did.
Increasing his books are infused with his bragging.

If you read 2 or more of his books, you'll notice he recycles material he used in other books, again, and again, and again...

I started climbing at 17, did a lot for 30 years & in that time
17 people I personally met got the chop some time later in the mountains.

Oct 15, 2010 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Roberts is more than a little insufferable, but I certainly admire such exploits.
The Young Urban Unprofessional
In a world before gortex, cams, and freedom of the hills there were mountaineers and adventurers who pushed the limits in some of the harshest and most remote conditions on the planet. David Roberts is certainly one of those individuals. This book is a must read for any aspiring, intermediate, or seasoned hiker/climber/mountaineer. He recounts many of his famous first ascents in Alaska as a 20-something year old. The book does a good job of showing the great perils and great successes that come ...more
Greg Goodrum
Nov 09, 2012 Greg Goodrum rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book exemplifies many of the best parts of Roberts' adventure writing. Much more thoughtful and personal than his earlier work, this biography finds Roberts examining the emotion and lifestyle behind the dirtbag glitter of alpine mountaineering. While many of his mountain pursuits are well addressed here, they simply act as background to the story of how the author developed into the person he is today. Though there is some repetition of themes here, primarily about the loss of his first pa ...more
Jan 14, 2013 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well written biography about the life of mountaineer David Roberts. The most facinating aspect of this book is that he reflects on the hazards of mountain climbing and asks "Is it worth it." He was personally involved or present at several fatal climbing accidents. The big question he wrestles with is: "What about the suffering of those who are left behind after the death of the loved one." He had several interactions with the relatives of those who died in the mountains. He realized the pain ...more
Sheri Struk
Roberts reflects on his accomplishments and what he has learned as a mountain climber. He shares his childhood and what led him to pursue so many ascents, particularly in Alaska. He also writes about tragedies he experienced on the mountains and how those impacted him.
He has lead an interesting life and met many people associated with mountaineering. As he has gotten older, his pursuits in nature have increased to incorporate exploring ancient cave drawings as well as other things. I appreciated
David Roberts is quickly becoming one of my favorite climber/writers. "On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined" is a memoir, written by Roberts while he was in his 60's and looking back 30-40 years at his climbing expeditions. Roberts is one of those "lucky" climbers who has watched a friend tumble off a mountain and die, but always finishes a climb unscathed. Much of the book deals with the mental turmoil that Roberts suffered and addresses the age-old question about why ...more
May 12, 2011 Katelyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book the author David Roberts is a mountain climber who loves the thrill and adrenaline rush. By the time he is 22 years old he witnesses the death of 3 of his friend while climbing. Now he has to find the strength to keep going. David starts to interview the families of his friends that have died and notices that the wounds haven't healed. He then realizes that climbing is worth the risk and adventure because you have to go out and take risks and live life to the fullest. Now David cont ...more
Raghavendra Vadali
Really nice memoir on a very accomplished climbing life. The stories of the first ascents are absolute page turners. The book puts out the question that every climber and mountaineer never has a good answer for, which is what is the adventure worth? Being in the mountains is a special journey that is laid out very well in the book.
Oct 15, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As far as climbing memoirs go, this is one of my favorites from an intellectual standpoint. Roberts is deeply introspective in a way few other autobiographical authors achieve. His candor is courageous, and I feel that he realizes without candor there can be no understanding of his own motivations.
Dec 11, 2012 Sean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a sucker for good adventure stories, though I don't read enough of them, a fact I was reminded of when I started reading this book. Don't let the dates here fool you, it only took me that long because it became the book I leave at work to read over my lunch break. This was a compelling read, an introspective look at a life spent, one way or the other, in pursuit of climbing, that managed to mix that introspection with the right blend of tip of your fingers action that one would expect from a ...more
Sep 10, 2011 skye rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent reflection on whether dangerous mountaineering is worth the risk. Roberts tells lots of great stories, and usually highlights the moral ambivalence of the many deaths he was involved with or helped cause. All budding mountaineers should read this -- though given the addictive nature of the sport, reason or reflection don't seem to play any role in how mountaineers decide to do what they do. Ultimately, luck will play a large role in who lives and dies. This book includes many chilli ...more
Mark Egge
Jun 09, 2014 Mark Egge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful stories of climbing, and thought-provoking reflections on why we climb.
Aug 21, 2008 Loren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THis began with one of the mostgripping first chapters in a non-fiction book that I have read. Chapter 2 was a big drop off, but it ramped up after that. The last chapter was an excellent commentray by a climber reflecting on his choices and trying to figure out why he climbs... why he takes the risks that he does, and whether it was all worth it. Short of the very last line that I thought was a bit contrived, this was a great read and gives a different perspective on people that climb at a much ...more
Brandi D'angelo
May 13, 2015 Brandi D'angelo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about mountain climbing. I felt like I was alongside him, climbing the mountains and experiencing both the highs and the lows. There is a lot of tragedy in mountain climbing.
Jul 16, 2012 Terry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I wanted to read a book about mountains and found this one to be somewhat captivating as it details the personalities of adventurers. The book is balanced between the Alaskan first ascents of the 70s and the deaths of climbing partners. It was interesting to see how athletes time themselves for their limited peak seasons but the best part was probably the last paragraphs as author describes recognizing that friends' deaths affect others beside himself. See other field...
Feb 08, 2011 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 01, 2007 Lmcwil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure, memoirs
Roberts gets a bit caught up in his own prose from time to time, but overall, a decent read. It's basically a memoir of his entire life; he talks about more than just mountaineering. I particularly enjoyed his references to mountaineering and adventure literature. It's a bit dense at times- if you're not a fast reader, I'd recommend skimming bits when he's not talking about actual climbing or self-examination.
I'm on the fence about David Roberts' writing. It's a little stilted, but he's clearly amassed an incredible amount of experience and is a very well respected mountaineer. He has some great stories in this book and it's interesting to see someone so accomplished reflect on why people dedicate their lives to things like.. climbing mountains.
A brutal autobiography by a world-class mountaineer that made me question the egotistical act of climbing and its potential consequences. Death for the climber is easy, but it is the family and friends that are left behind that truly suffer. This story reflects on the question of mountaineering: why climb?
Francine Uenuma
Jun 12, 2007 Francine Uenuma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great adventure read. He looks back on decades of climbing, including the death of many of his friends in accidents and falls, and questions whether or not their drive to scale the toughest mountains out there was worth the personal cost. It's part psychoanalysis and part mountaineering memoir.
Philip Burnett
This book is one of the most introspective and inquisitive books I've ever read on climbing. The autobiographical part is very exciting for those that enjoy climbing, and I think would be enjoyable for those that don't know a thing about it. This was my second time reading it.
Apr 30, 2008 Rae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
Even though he witnessed the death of friends on mountains, Roberts continues to climb and find joy in the effort. I loved this book but nothing anyone has written has convinced me that the joys of climbing outweigh the risk of death or severe injury.
Terri Schneider
Nov 20, 2015 Terri Schneider rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Roberts is one of the most eloquent climbing writers on the planet (and I’ve read a lot). This book elevates the intellectual depth and honesty of his continued examination of the sport. Others I recommend: Moments of Doubt, The Mountain of My Fear.
Mar 06, 2008 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Yes
I enjoyed the book thouroughly! I read other mountaineering magazines, books, etc. and found that this filled in some blanks about some of climbings luminaries. Interesting insite into John Krakauer.
Aug 14, 2010 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite authors. Spans a lot of genres. This book resonated on so many fronts as Roberts speaks openly and honestly about his life as a mountaineer. He is much more, though.
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David Roberts is the author of seventeen books on mountaineering, adventure, and the history of the American Southwest. His essays and articles have appeared in National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. He lives i
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