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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,567 ratings  ·  569 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 400 miles off
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Knopf Canada
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Start your review of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
“Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves.”
- George Leigh Mallory, The Alpine Journal (1918)

Years ago, I decided to bring Wade Davis’s Into the Silence with me when I went backpacking in the Cascades – and you can tell just by looking at it. 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 essen
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 t ...more
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
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 thematically sets
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 every page, from start to finish.
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
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
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.
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 speedy read. It
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: JenniferD
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 lot of th
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
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 summit, repor
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
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 war that robbe
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
Rob Twinem
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“...caught on the barbed wire, drowned in mud, choked by the oily slime of gas, reduced to a spray of red mist quartered limbs hanging from shattered branches of burnt trees, bodies swollen and blackened with flies, skulls gnawed by rats, corpses stuck in the sides of trenches that aged with each day into the colours of the dead”............”This was not war he wrote; it was the monstrous inversion of civilization. To call it war was to imply that something of the sun remained, when in fact all ...more
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 a cast of re
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. Davis e ...more
Chris McLane
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I hate stopping a book half way through but decided not to complete this title.

It's a book of two halves the first of which is remarkable and absorbing. The second half is however designed more for those engaged in mountaineering and travel writing. Obviously I was aware of this, but when the title won the Samuel Johnson prize, the book was cited for it's excellent history of the context for why these men risked their lives on this adventure. It delivers on that front immensely.

The first half
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 didn’t hold my
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
Neil Kenealy
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a long dense book so it needs a hefty review to cover even a fraction of what's in the book. I'm reviewing this as a first-time reader on the Everest story so I might have a different opinion after reading more books on Everest. Audrey Salkeld is acknowledged by Davis as the definitive Everest historian and has written many books on these expeditions. So I'd like to read some of her books and compare them with this one from Wade Davis.

In the 1921 expedition, the explorers were walking o
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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 the Amazon an

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“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”
“Let him who thinks war is a glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking honour and praise and valour and love of country … Let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realize how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all youth and joy and life into a fetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that victory is worth the death of even one of these?” 4 likes
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