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Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  1,001 Ratings  ·  103 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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ebook, 0 pages
Published September 9th 2009 by Vintage (first published May 8th 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Paul
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 22, 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
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 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
Stephen
Nov 08, 2010 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jo Bennie
Nov 30, 2014 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
Jason
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
Don
Dec 31, 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
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Melinda
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
J.
Sep 10, 2014 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
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.
Yvonne
Oct 06, 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'.
Jacob Ortwein
An excellent perspective on why we go to the mountains. MacFarlane has eloquently described the passion for being in the mountains. His insights into the history of the mountains gives the reader even more depth to love being amongst them.
A few notes on the chapters: 1. Possession 2. the great stone summit
3. the pursuit of fear - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, old notion of mnt climbing
4. glacier and ice - the beauty of ice and it's blank environment, ice preserves but also destroy
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Ian Brydon
May 17, 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
Jim
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.
Victoria Mier
Nov 09, 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
Jacob Ortwein
Jan 30, 2016 Jacob Ortwein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent perspective on why we go to the mountains. MacFarlane has eloquently described the passion for being in the mountains. His insights into the history of the mountains gives the reader even more depth to love being amongst them.
A few notes on the chapters: 1. Possession 2. the great stone summit
3. the pursuit of fear - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, old notion of mnt climbing
4. glacier and ice - the beauty of ice and it's blank environment, ice preserves but also destroy
...more
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
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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.
Cary O'Donnell
Feb 25, 2015 Cary O'Donnell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The opening chapters say much about the draw of the mountains that I share with the author: the beauty of the rock formations; the geology of a glaciated landscape giving a sense of "deep time"; the frisson of risk. I found it intriguing enough to see someone put my own thoughts and experiences into words, and so poetically, in a way I could never achieve. But this book goes further: tracing the cultural development of the Western fascination with mountains, which eerily shows just how much we a ...more
Justin
Aug 06, 2015 Justin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Marcfarlane seemed to be confused as to who his audience was. On the one hand, his mountaineering history lessons seemed to be aimed at people who had never read a book on mountaineering before, while on the other he didn't explain much about the actual mountaineering. This left this reader, who is very familiar with both mountaineering and its history, quite bored, and I could see how Macfarlane's approach would leave a mountaineering novice confused and a reader who knows a little bit about mo ...more
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
Jul 09, 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!
Debbie
Jan 04, 2015 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.
Andy
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.
Pamela
Not being a lover of cold and ice, I've always struggled to understand the motivation of those who choose to spend their time battling the elements and facing danger on glaciers and mountains. In this book, Robert Macfarlane explains the history of mankind's growing fascination with mountaineering, from early visitors to the Alps to the brave but doomed attempt of Mallory and Irvine on Everest.

Macfarlane approaches this from the angle of the imagination, examining what mountains came to represen
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Martha
Sep 04, 2016 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-for-fun
The writer is very interested in why people climb mountains and he is invested in the notion that the idea of the "sublime" -- a Romantic notion of the early 20th century -- suddenly brought the beauty of snow-capped peaks into the popular mind, that until then no one noticed the mountains as "beautiful." I don't know how he knows this and I am never convinced. He argues that mountains were not written about or painted (?) until this literary/artistic/historic moment and that's his support for h ...more
Owain Lewis
Jul 05, 2015 Owain Lewis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So good I feel like I don't need to read another book about mountains and mountaineering again, ever. Macfarlane does a great job of making his research into a compelling read; his history of the fascination is pretty comprehensive, going right back to accounts from the 15th century, when mountains were places people just didn't go. He quotes from some of the better known mountaineers and from personal experience but he also brings in the romantics and the theories of the sublime. It's not your ...more
Agnese
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
...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.” 144 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.” 89 likes
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