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Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,112 ratings  ·  517 reviews
A magnificent work of history, biography and adventure.

If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war. Of the twenty-six British climbers who, on three expedtions (1921-24), walked 40
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Knopf Canada
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Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I decided to bring this book with me when I went backpacking in the Cascades this summer - and you can tell. One of my crampons sliced the back cover open, while the front cover rubbed against the sole of my day hiking boots, leaving it scuffed like an old baseball. The tops of the pages were also stained by a leaking bottle of whiskey (a back country essential).

It seemed like a no-brainer to bring a book about mountain climbing into the mountains. Turns out, however, that it actually is a brai
This hefty volume appears to have been a ten-year labor of love for the author, and it shows. . George Mallory, who died with an inexperienced 22-year old Oxford engineering student, Andrew (Sandy) Irvine, trying to climb Everest in 1924, has been the subject of countless books. How close they got to the top remains a mystery, but his height record stood for nearly 30 years until the accomplishment of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Nicholas Wade wrote his own editor in 1999, the year ...more
Sarah (Presto agitato)
Many books have been written about the British Mount Everest expeditions of the 1920s that culminated so mysteriously in the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, last seen "going strong for the top," on June 8, 1924. What more could be added to the story that hasn't been discussed before? Wade Davis takes a different approach in Into the Silence. He examines the influences of World War I on the expeditions - on the political backdrop in England, India, and Tibet, as well as on the participants themselve ...more
Oct 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Because it's there.

Yes, George Mallory said that. But it was not, I've now learned, some mystic koan of distilled wisdom meant to channel a spirit of emptiness and pure purpose. Om. No, he was just tired during an American tour between his second and third attempts at Everest and replied with pique to being asked for the umpteenth time 'why'. George Mallory did not suffer fools. But why should he, or the other mountaineers of the 1920s? After what they'd been through?

Wade Davis thema
I tried, more than once (like Malory), but at close to 600 pages, this is a book in need of an editor. And this is frustrating, because Davis can write, and write beautifully. The idea behind this book is fascinating, seeing the explorers of Everest through the filter of the Great War. Davis is excellent in his accounts of the great World War 1 battles (the Somme, Ypres, etc.), and contrasting these great slaughters with the individual biographies of those who would eventually be involved in the ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent, moving book. Well researched and very detailed, yet never dry or hard going. I loved it, from start to finish.
A Very good book and well researched, Mr Davis puts you in the footsteps of those early Everest expeditions and all their growing pains, with some sobering details of the expedition members WWI experiences.
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you think this is a mountaineering book solely about Mallory's ill-fated attempt to reach the summit of Everest then you will be both pleasantly mistaken and astonished at the breadth and scope of what the author has accomplished.
At the heart of the book is an engrossing account of the three expeditions to Mt Everest carried out by the British between the years of 1921-1924, but it is the background information that really sets this book apart from its contemporaries. It contains some of the
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Into the Silence is a masterful piece of research and writing, struck through with fascinating and authoritative insights, and an almost impossibly capacious grasp of history and the mindsets not just of men but of whole nations. I expected Davis to write well about the mountain, and he delivers brilliantly on that. I was less prepared for the thorough and unvarnished evocation of the war and the multiple traumas that flowed from it, and for his fluid yet acute capture of the Bloomsbury Group, t ...more
I was sick when I read this book, which is why it took me so long to read. You know, that sick where you can't even read. I hate that type of sick. This book, however, did make me feel better about my cough because at least I wasn't coughing up my throat lining. (And at least this offically qualifies for the first book of the year in the TBR Challenge).

The reason why I point this out is that the book is totally engrossing and despite being stuffed with facts, a very easy, almost spee
Apr 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Its a book about the great war and an iconic historical figure who dies on a great adventure. How could it possibly be bad? Because its dry. Arid. Written like a text book outline- on this day this many men were sent into battle on the british side, this many from Germany, at X location, N miles from Y and Z miles from Q, this many died. This was the weapon of choice, this is a list of injuries the doctor treated that day-

Catastrophic injuries are listed in a manner so disconnected its almost a
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: Jennifer
I'm a pretty big nerd. I get excited about things like the finding of George Mallory's body, I love when 75 years of history is unfolded before my very eyes, I'm amazed anytime something so spectacular is so close. It seems like something that is so far removed from me and my life, but there it is - you can watch it on YouTube.

I'll admit that I knew the bare minimum about George Mallory before reading this book. Luckily the author is a pretty smart cookie with a gazillion degrees and a lo
The amount of detail in this book is astounding. It is hard to imagine how much research must have gone into it. Depending on your point of view this detail can be the strength or the weakness of the book. If you enjoy the background of Mallory's school life, teaching, WW1 career, Indian and Tibetan history and religious customs; along with the backgound of various other players then you will really enjoy the book. If you are impatient like me you will have to endure 3/4 of the book before they ...more
James Hartley
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
On the morning of June 8th, 1924, two British climbers set out for the summit of Everest. They were last seen, two dark spots on the ice, heading upwards, before clouds blew in and obscured the views. Still nobody knows if they ever made it to the top.
This book tells their story, the story of all the climbers involved in that expedition and the two which preceeded it, setting their tale against the backdrop of the First World War and bringing vividly to life a generation which stares weirdly ou
Thomas Vree
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
While I have happily tried, and will try my hand at a variety of outdoor pursuits, climbing mountains holds no appeal for me. Just way too alien an environment. Books like Into Thin Air just reinforced the idea that it is not for me, and left me shaking my head. Dilettantes who have no business being on Everest, who pay small fortunes to have Sherpas literally carry them up the mountain. When I read how every year there is a long line of people waiting to spend a minute at the top so they can cl ...more
James Murphy
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, I'd thought this would be an infectious read, a page-turner, and it was. It's essentially an adventure story, the first attempts on Mt. Everest. As you'd expect--as I did--it's full of man against the elements, British pluck, and all that. The book delivers. Partly because, I'm sure, I knew little of the story, I found it enormously engaging. I couldn't put it down.

These days we're used to photos of climbers in long queues on the face of the mountain waiting their turn at the s
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
An incredibly well-researched book that sacrificed its momentum through sheer scholarship. The first third of the book moved quickly drawing a vivid portrait of the horrors of WW1 and the epic scale of human life slaughtered and squandered. By contrast, the remaining two thirds of the book moved at a pace I would liken to the rate of altitude gained in the Death Zone (i.e., glacial speed). For me, this was almost two separate books combined. Intriguing premise - couching the attempts on Everest ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, own, vine
After devoting two full weeks to this massive book, yesterday I did my own summit push and spent six hours plowing through the final 100 pages, and I must say, I wasn’t disappointed. The fate of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine remains one of the greatest mysteries on Everest, but there were so many other factors leading up to the tragic 1924 expedition.

First, The Great War. At the time, no other event in history affected the morale of a nation more than the bloody and devastating wa
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wendy by: Jennifer D., Goodreads First Reads
*note* I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

Reading this book is an Everest climb in itself. It is long. It is dense. It is packed with historical detail, possibly too much. Dozens of characters are introduced, their backgrounds and experiences in the Great War laid out for us so that we slog through Pachendale and the Somme at least three separate times. It will be hundreds of pages before we understand where these men fit into the Everest story. We will read of every
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A remarkable book. Davis begins with WWI and the horrific loss of life and catastrophic injuries that occurred in those grim battles. Often, I had to pause from reading this section in order to comprehend and reflect on the sacrifices made by those brave men.

Climbers and climbing are the focus of Davis' work. The quest to conquer Mt Everest was fraught with political problems, weather problems, health problems, and supply problems, but never a lack of courage or reluctance on the part of the cl
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
I do not care that much about mountaineering, nor go looking for travelogues, and yet I found this an excellent book! While the main focus is only on the expeditions to reach the summit of Everest, by gathering a wealth of information from all kind of sources, including the protagonists (and there are many!) diaries and private letters, Wade Davis manages to weave in all the aspects that make a period, from society to national character to history and culture. The war is there, always, so is the ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This masterful book combines multitudes. It is a study of World War One, a reflection and meditation of Britain in the early decades of the 20C, and a psychological study of motivation and desire all wrapped into the lives of men who looked at Mount Everest and saw it as yet another barrier that must be endured but hopefully challenged and overcome. And what people they were.

Wade Davis in “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest” presents the reader with
Mark Mitten
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mountaineering
Mr. Davis did a very thorough and meticulously researched bio on George Mallory, and the team members on the 1921, 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions. It is a substantial tome, but a very worthwhile read for anyone with a dedicated interest in the history of mountaineering, and of course Everest in particular. I remember when Conrad Anker found Mallory's body on the mountain, and everyone was hoping the mystery would be solved concerning whether or not Mallory & Irvine made it to the top. Dav ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could. A lot of the book is completely fascinating; I've read a number of books about Everest, but none about the early expeditions. Reading about these men approaching a mountain without knowing anything about it, their equipment (or lack thereof), their experience levels was incredible.

Davis did a great job tying their experiences with World War I into their attitudes about climbing and death. The stories of what these men lived through during the war years and th
3.25 stars

George Mallory made three attempts to summit Everest in the early 1920s. On his third attempt in 1924, he and a young, inexperienced Sandy Irvine went missing, and no one knows whether they made it to the top or not. This book looks at all three attempts, plus the people who were involved, many who also fought in WWI.

I really liked the last 1/3 of the book (4 stars worth), but the first 2/3 were hit or miss for me. There were parts that seemed really good, but they just di
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the most thoroughly researched book I've ever read and yet it's easy to read.

The first few chapters on WWI, in my opinion, should be compulsory reading for young adults everywhere. Davis makes clear the tenor of the times which allowed and encouraged the kinds of mind-numbing slaughter that happened on the European battlefields of WWI, and this helped me understand better how that sort of waste of human lives can happen. These chapters are also the perfect beginning for this bo
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
28 hours and 57 minutes... I spent weeks with Mallory and his companions in the trenches and on the highest slopes of the Himalayas, and even knowing the end of the story all along, I felt empty as this saga came to an end. An absolutely fascinating history, both tragic and uplifting. I learned all sorts of things I never knew (like the Russian interest in Tibet), and filled in a few more gaps in my (still very sketchy) knowledge of the world. The stories of WWI were sometimes a bit too long, ta ...more
Jaimie Ireland
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book offers some fascinating insights into the politics and personal obsessions behind the attempts to conquer Everest. Thoroughly researched...poignant reflections on the shattered soldiers/mountain climbers' lives and how they were tied to the mountain.
Mike Kershaw
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a superb work of history which is of equal interest to the Soldier as the mountaineer. Wade Davis' book is lengthy but well worth the effort, with superb maps and photos you will find yourself referring to throughout. I highly recommend this book.

George Mallory's death during his pursuit of Everest's peak in 1924 cast a long shadow over future efforts to summit the world's tallest mountain. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay
Janette Fleming
Using Geoff Dyer's review as it says everything I would wish to say far more eloquently than I could do ever. I can't express what an magnificent work this book is. It is astonishing accomplishment of research, organisation and narrative drive that make this the definitive masterpiece of mountaineering literature.

Into the Silence is a powerful, haunting, heartbreaking read - "An exceptional book on an extraordinary generation."

Using Geoff Dyer's review as it says everything I would wish to say far more eloquently than I could do ever. I can't express what an magnificent work this book is. It is astonishing accomplishment of research, organisation and narrative drive that make this the definitive masterpiece of mountaineering literature.

Into the Silence is a powerful, haunting, heartbreaking read - "An exceptional book on an extraordinary generation."

The death in 1912 of Captain Scott and his companions in the Antarctic set a precedent of sacrifice for the generation of young British men who, a few years later, would hurl themselves into the maelstrom of the Great War. That Scott's expedition was, according to later accounts, doomed by incompetent leadership only makes its failure seem more prophetic. Now, in Wade Davis's magnificent new book, the remaining goal of imperial exploration is seen as an outcome of – and response to – the first world war. While Scott's expedition was, in some ways, an exercise in heroic futility, the conquest of Mount Everest could help to exorcise the massed ghosts of the dead.

Three British expeditions set out for Everest between 1921 and 1924, involving a total of 23 climbers, all but six of whom had seen action in the war, either as combatants or medics. Charles Bruce, for example, survived Gallipoli in spite of being "cut down with machine-gun fire that nearly severed both of his legs". Advised by the medical board "to retire to a quiet life and to be especially careful never to walk strenuously uphill", he went on to lead the second and third Everest expeditions. George Mallory, who would die on Everest in the third of three successive trips to the Himalayas, served as an artillery officer but had the good fortune of being sent home from the Somme (due to the recurrence of an old climbing injury) and missing Passchendaele thanks to a motorbike accident on a training course.

It seems likely that, having given a vivid account of the war, Davis will move rapidly on to the planning and execution of the Everest assaults. He does, but whenever new characters are introduced – there is a constant change of personnel over the course of the three expeditions – Davis details their individual experiences in battle so that the war exists not as backdrop but as a recurring series of flashbacks. Its legacy dogs the climbers along every step of their "mimic campaign", through overlapping vocabulary (in the laconic idiom of the age, expeditions and battles are both "shows"), equipment used (altitude necessitates the use of oxygen to prevent the climbers – some of whom had survived gas attacks on the western front – being "suffocated as if by some subtle, invisible, odourless gas") and, of course, by the constant threat of death.

With these expeditions Davis is on tried and tested narrative routes, guaranteed to keep the reader roped closely to the page. Extreme weather and altitude throw up phenomena that are doubly intolerable ("your feet can be suffering from frostbite," Charles Howard-Bury observed uncomplainingly, "while you are getting sunstroke at the same time") and supernaturally weird: at 23,000 feet on the first expedition, Mallory and climbing partner Edward Wheeler "began to glow with a frigid halo, an 'aureole of spindrift' and whirling snow"). Looking, in George Bernard Shaw's words, as if they were part of a "Connemara picnic surprised by a snowstorm", the team members met these and other challenges phlegmatically. (How else to react when the cold causes one to cough up the mucus membrane of one's larynx?)

Into the Silence offers a meticulous recreation of how the idea of climbing the mountain grows out of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India (which leads to the naming of Everest and establishes that it is indeed the highest point on earth); the full diplomatic and political wranglings necessary even to make a start; and the immense logistical demands of such attempts once they are under way: third time around, the supplies include "60 tins of quail in foie gras and 48 bottles of champagne, Montebello 1915".

Still more impressive is the way Davis depicts the meeting of incompatible belief systems. While the British see the mountain as an obstacle to be overcome (by sheer force of Britishness if necessary), the opinion of their Tibetan hosts – that the spirits of the mountain, if not sufficiently appeased, will hurl them from its side – comes to seem just as plausible. It would be a mistake, however, to see one outlook as "spiritual" and the other as pragmatic. The Tibetans, quite reasonably, can't see any point in climbing the mountain; the British, in turn, are animated by a "mystic patriotism" that is itself a kind of delirium.

And while expedition members are delighted to see exotic wild birds that are utterly tame (due to the Lama's decree that they are sacred and not to be harmed), Tibet makes a less favourable impression on them than it will, later, on Richard Gere. Mallory calls it "a hateful country inhabited by hateful people" while some of his team-mates endure the mumbo-jumbo to which they're subjected with undisguised contempt. Though the climbing teams admire the Tibetans' capacity to endure hardship, an avalanche that sweeps seven porters to their deaths on the second expedition is announced with the relieved words: "All whites are safe!" But here too there is complexity; a member of the expedition later writes: "Why, oh why could not one of us, Britishers, share their fate?"

The differences, moreover, do not simply divide west from east. Within the British camp some view the use of oxygen – and its great advocate, George Finch – with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. "I always knew he was a shit," snorts a team-mate on seeing the Australian-born Finch repairing his own boots. Mallory, the tragic figure at the centre of the drama, contains many of these conflicts and contradictions within himself. After a Stranger's Child-style homosexual infatuation at Cambridge, he marries, has kids, and sets up home as a schoolteacher, only to be lured back repeatedly to the mountain that will claim him. Forward-thinking enough to see that the socially inept Finch is his best possible climbing partner, he is sufficiently impressed by the porters to consider shipping one back home – where he "might inhabit part of the cellar or the outside coal shed" – as a servant. Blessed with incredible natural athleticism and stamina, he is cursed by "congenital incompetence with anything technical" and prone to forget or drop items of life-saving importance.

If Mallory and his cohorts are representatives of a bygone age, their expeditions established a template that has remained unchanged. The contemporary practice of wealthy individuals purchasing a place on Everest, familiar to readers of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, "began from the inception of the dream". The combination of "exclusive marketing arrangements" and sponsorship – "Avoid worry, use Sunlight Soap and for Ever-rest" – to underwrite the enormous undertaking was also in place from the outset.

To keep this mass of material from bulging out of the narrative is an impressive feat of literary organisation and management. To that extent the book is like the expeditions themselves: every inch of progress is dependent on an enormous supply train of information. There is nothing burdensome about this for the reader; the technical data is fascinating, and Davis's prose, in spite of the weight it is obliged to bear over such an extended and difficult terrain, shows only occasional signs of buckling under the strain: "For him the war was over"; "FM Bailey was himself no slouch".

What is surprising is that in narrative terms Mallory's prediction – "I have every reason to expect the climax to be no less interesting" – proves somewhat misleading. By the time we get to the final assault on the summit, excitement has given way to grim resignation. Unprecedented though they are, the challenges of the Death Zone manifest themselves as a kind of vertiginous drudgery.

Whether Mallory and his companion Sandy Irvine died on their way to the summit or on the way down remains a matter of conjecture. Either way, their deaths embody the book's larger purpose in a way that Davis might have emphasised more strongly. The Great War resulted not only in vast numbers of men dying but in their being blown to unidentifiable bits by artillery so that they were commemorated as "The Missing". For almost 75 years, until the discovery of his body in 1999, Mallory shared this fate and became their exalted representative: a name preserved high above the nameless dead.

Geoff Dyer is the author of The Missing of the Somme
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Edmund Wade Davis has been described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet, and passionate defender of all of life's diversity."

An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in t
“I want to lose all harshness of jagged nerves, to be above all gentle. I feel we have achieved victory for that almost more than anything-to be able to cultivate gentleness.
George Malory to his wife Ruth at the end of the Great War”
“In my humble opinion," (Ghandi) told the court, "non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good.” 3 likes
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