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The White Spider

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,320 ratings  ·  156 reviews
The White Spider dramatically recreates not only the harrowing, successful ascent made by Harrer and his comrades in 1938, but also the previous, tragic attempts at a wall of rock that was recently enshrined in mountaineer Jon Krakauer's first work, Eiger Dreams. For a generation of American climbers, The White Spider has been a formative book--yet it has long been ...more
Paperback, 364 pages
Published September 28th 1998 by TarcherPerigee (first published 1959)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Mar 20, 2011 rated it liked it
I have admired Heinrich Harrer ever since I came across his book 'Seven Years in Tibet' many years ago. In 2010, I even visited his home village of Huettenberg in Austria and visited the Harrer Museum there. In the Museum, I found old newspaper clippings from 1938 showing that he was also one of the party of four which made the first successful ascent of the Eiger North face. Having seen the immense vertical wall of the Eiger North Face when I had hiked the Bernese Alps some years before, I ...more
Nov 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
While I have never understood the motivation of people who willingly place themselves in harm's way by doing all sorts of bizarre things like hanging from ropes above precipices
with rocks falling on their heads and winter blizzards forcing snow down their necks, I must admit they make fascinating reading.

The Eiger, a particularly nasty rock face, was not successfully climbed from the north until the author and his team succeeded (where many others had failed) in 1938. This astonishing book is
Nick Davies
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
As far as an objective assessment of this book is concerned, I'd recommend it heartily - Harrer speaks from a position of great expertise, having been involved in the first successful conquest of the North Face of the Eiger.. and here he examines numerous other attempts (successful and unsuccessful) to scale this massively challenging alpine feat. Well researched, beautifully described (though a number of slightly strange choices of phrase, due probably to the Austrian author not writing in his ...more
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I really did want to enjoy this, I gave this a go after reading Joe Simpson's "Beckoning Silence" since he had been so inspired by this book in his childhood. But I came away from it with far less appreciation that I had anticipated; the first few chapters are undeniably very compelling as Harrer outlines the early history of the Eiger attempts, the tragedies of climbers like Toni Kurz for example, and not to mention his own successful ascent which was the first ever.

But much of the rest of the
Nigel Kotani
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Harrer had a remarkable life. Aside from spending 'Seven Years in Tibet' (which I read about 30 years ago) and becoming close friends with the Dalai Lama, he was a member of the first party to climb the North Face of the Eiger, was selected to represent Austria in the 1936 Winter Olympics (only to be withdrawn because being a ski instructor deemed him to be professional) and was twice Austrian golf champion.

This book had some masterful sections, such as the story of the Sedlmayer/Mehringer
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Just re-read this. The last time I read it was probably 10 years ago, and I loved it then, but now that I've read much more on mountaineering and the Nordwand of the Eiger in particular, I loved it even more!! Harrer not only tells his own story of his group's first successful ascent of the Nordwand (or Mordwand, depending on your point of view), he traces the history of the mountain, recreating in careful detail the other successful attempts as well as the myriad disasters. Harrer of ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Fairly detailed account of attempts on the Eiger North Face in the twentieth century. Can't believe what people were climbing with only hemp ropes, hobnail boots and wool knickers.
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I started reading this book before making a skiing trip to Wengen/Grindelwald, in the shadow of the Eiger's north face. I enjoyed the early chapters immensely and the stories of the Kurtz tragedy and Harrer's own ascent gave me a real sense of the history of the famous peak. The writing style is antiquated and the translation needs tightening a little, but this actually helps give you a good picture of the time. I had read no other material on the Eiger, which is an important factor; as a ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great and comprehensive chronicle of mountaineering on Eiger. Tragedy, death, storm, avalanches, triumphs, mishaps all add to the poignancy of this book. I loved the first few chapters that dealt with the first ever attempt by Mehringer and Sedlmeyer, the gruesome account of Toni Kurz and his fellow climbers, and the breathtaking first successful ascent. Forever entrenched in my memory will be the Hinterstoisser episode.

The mountaineering parts are suspenseful, dark, chilling, profound,
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It's more interesting as a historical artifact than as a read. Modern writers have learned from and eclipsed this for general mountaineering books.

The pluses: Harrer writes climbing well. This is widely considered a seminal text on climbing.

Other parts were less appealing:
The lists of such-and-so famous climber who surmounted the East Wall of Mount Something or other were written for climbing fans who could use them to judge whether a given party had sufficient chops to take on the Eiger. Eighty
Kevin Weir
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
This is the second time I've read this book, but I still find Harrer's arrogant and didactic style irritating. In fairness, I must admit that, reading a translation, one might not fully grasp the nuances of the original author's style.

Also, the fact that he did not recant his condemnation of Claudio Corti in the revised edition (1965), even though Corti had been vindicated, seems at odds with his supposed emphasis upon sportsmanship, honesty, and fair play. Perhaps it is a product of his
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There seems to be a lot of cronyism among Harrer and his fellow German climbers: Every climber who dies was the brightest young German mind to have ever graced the valley from which he came, only to fall at the face of the great Eiger, while every success is a testament to certain indefatigable greatness in the eyes of mankind immemorial. He waits until the end of the novel to finally accuse an Italian of being the first to mistake his ambitions and strength are adequate for the climbing, though ...more
Allyson Shaw
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A quick read, though unsatisfying either due to Harrer's wooden and often hackneyed prose or the translation, maybe both. (What's with all the ellipses?) The book is weighted down with a bizarre defensiveness. What would be most interesting-- the texture of life on the mountain face-- is left out completely, replaced with logistic discussions which become repetitive. Though, I suppose in wanting the vicariousness of a sensory narrative I'm one of the "rubberneckers" he seems to have such disdain ...more
Hywel Owen
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best book on the realities of climbing that I have read. You will finish it maybe convinced of the insanity of mountaineering, but certainly with a better understanding of what it is to climb. Harrer is indisputably one of the all-time greats of mountaineering.
Pranav Hundekari
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
It is believed that Harrers The White Spider is to mountaineering what Robert Pirsigs Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is to motorcycling. Although these are completely different kind of books, both accomplish the task of getting a novice motivated (at least excited) about the new-found hobby. While The Zen is a philosophical master piece, the White Spider at first glance looks like a collection of News Articles concerning the various attempts to the summit of the 13000 ft high Mount Eiger ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The White Spider surely is the most complete work about the mountaineering history of the Eiger's North Face. Heinrich Harrer recounts the most important attempts, and all successful climbs on the face since the late 19th century until 1963 (when the last revision of the book was published).

In between, Harrer managed to capture the stark and raw moments of the Eiger's history with great ability in my opinion. Worth noting it is his narration of 1936 tragic attempt by Hinterstoisser, Kurz,
Kate Dunn
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The bedrock of mountaineering lit, a Shelob for adventurers. Undeterred, I still want to climb a mountain. The Eiger is out of reach beyond these pages. Thank you Harrer, for articulating why and getting all Hemingway with your reverence for the bravery & codes of conduct governing "true mountaineers." I really dig the special contempt he has for the outsiders & rubberneckers who gawk at the climbers. The idea of people peering through telescopes to watch these guys push through ...more
Carol Masciola
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Heinrich Harrer talks about how he and a team of four were the first to ascend the notorious north face of the Eiger (in the Bernese Alps) in 1938, of the failed attempts before that, and attempts and successful climbs after that, all the way up to the early 1980s.

I think this book would be very interesting to people involved in mountain climbing and rock climbing because it delves a lot into the practicalities and methods of what went on in these climbs. I got a little tired of the author's
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
I love the classic mountaineering works like Conquistadors of the useless, Annapurna and into thin air which is probably why I was so disappointed in The White Spider.

It has its moments, the beginning is quite compelling and there are a few other short sections of note but overall found it to be one of the most irritating, insufferable and poorly written books I've ever come across. It was actually painful to get through many large sections of this book.

Maybe it's in part due to the
Chris S.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
I have really enjoyed climbing books that are matter-of-fact. Jon Krakauer is the most famous, but there are a number of authors who focus on the facts, not the legends, surrounding noteworthy climbs. Harrer already demonstrated that he doesn't get tangled up too much in the abstract, and that was a chronicle of Tibet, possibly the most mythical place in the world. Now he takes that detailed approach, and gets to mix it with the practical part of climbing. If you don't already know what's ...more
Jean Offutt-Lindt
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Years ago I was in Gimmelwald and Mureen and had an opportunity to walk up the Jungfrau; all in the shadow of the Eiger. The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood has always been a favorite movie of mine and I look forward to viewing it again after finishing the book. I am not a climber in the "real" sense, have only done the 14,000 ft mountains in Colorado (no ropes) but have devoured mountain and survival stories for years. This book was wonderful compilation of Eiger climbs and truly makes the ...more
Erik Empson
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I'd been wanting to read this book for some time, and it was enjoyable and inspiring. It is of its time, but I felt it was fairly balanced and European in outlook and scope, where it could easily have been far more nationalistic although Corti got a harder time than he perhaps deserved. The focus is rightly on the mountain and its challenges, and the climbers and their techniques. All of the classic ingredients of an adventure story are in it: heros, chivalry, danger (lots), hardship, ...more
Rob Wesson
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book as a high school kid a very long time ago, and have reread it once or twice since. It is a classic of mountaineering literature. Harrer also captures the atmosphere that motivated some German and Austrian climbers in the period just before World War II. This book is a must read for aficionados of mountaineering literature. But it should also be read by anyone contemplating a trip to Grindelwald in Switzerland, especially if you are planning to take the train from Kleine ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mountaineering
Heinrich Harrer is one of the few whose place in the history of adventure is firmly defined by more than one life-changing experience. The majority of readers are familiar with his name from the international bestseller Seven Years in Tibet , in which he describes with much gusto his escape to and long refuge in the Forbidden Kingdom - actions that forever altered the course of events for both the Austrian ex-POW and the Dalai Lama. However, prior to World War II, Harrer also gained notoriety ...more
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a chronicle of the Eiger until 1964. Towards the last chapters, it becomes a slog of detailed list style writing. But the entire original book, covering the period through 1958 is a brilliant philosophical tour de force. Climbing occurs, tragedy and triumph fill the pages. But the views of humanity tackling obstacles and how these climbers see life and adventure is positively enthralling!

The epilogue definitely trails off, but the struggles to gain a first ascent of the Eiger are some of
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read

As a mountaineering enthusiast, I'm a huge fan of Harrer. This book is a great telling of the tragedy & the victory in climbing that Great face in mountaineering.
The writing is extremely descriptive and captures the essence. You also get introduced to the great climbers of our times, which then become your future wish list of books to read.
Must read if you love the mountains!
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm obsessed with climbing books, and this is probably the best one I've ever read. However, it's very much of its time and there are lots of sweeping statements about the British (don't communicate much apparently), Spanish and Italians. I think it's worth reading this article to give the chapter on the 1957 disaster some context:
Damien Evans
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed it. Some amazing stories told that make me want to go back to Switzerland and look at the Eiger with a new appreciation. My only criticism of the book is that he didn't need to provide details of every single attempt, consideration of an attempt and longing look cast in the direction of the Eiger. :)
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was originally written in German and translated to English, so some of the phrasing and wording are a bit clunky. It's also full of technical of climbing techniques. The author has a habit of throwing half a dozen names at you then referencing them two chapters later, as you scramble to recall any details. Interesting book though.
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely everything it's billed to be. A complete Eiger classic, possibly the definitive book to read about the North Face. I savoured every second of it and had to stop myself completely devouring it. It's literally like a murder mystery but the mountain is the murderer.
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Heinrich Harrer was an Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer, and author. He is best known for being on the four-man climbing team that made the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, and for his books Seven Years in Tibet (1952) and The White Spider (1959).

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"Stay calm and read on" might be our collective slogan for the coming months. Since we all might need some help with that, we asked Goodreads m...
102 likes · 102 comments
“Yes, we had made and excursion into another world and we had come back, but we had brought the joy of life and of humanity back with us. In the rush and whirl of everyday things, we so often live alongside one another without making any mutual contact. We had learned on the North Fae of the Eiger that men are good, and the earth on which we were born is good."(p.126)” 4 likes
“Let us grant courage and the love of pure adventure their own justification, even if we cannot produce any material support for them. Mankind has developed an ugly habit of only allowing true courage to the killers. Great credits accrue to the one who bests another; little is given to the man who recognises in his comrade on the rope a part of himself, who for long hours of extreme peril faces no opponent to be shot or struck down, but whose battle is solely against his own weakness and insufficiency. Is the man who, at moments when his own life is in the balance, has not only to safeguard it but, at the same time, his friend's- even to the extent of mutual self-sacrifice- to receive less recognition than a boxer n the ring, simply because the nature of what he is doing is not properly understood? In his book about the Dachstein, Kurt Maix writes: "Climbing is th emost royl irrationality out of which Man, in his creative imagination, has been able to fashion the highest personal values." Those personal values, which we gain from our approach to the mountains, are great enough to enrich our life. Is not the irrationality of its very lack of purpose the deepest argument for climbing? But we had better leave philosophical niceties and unsuitable psychoanalisis out of this.” 2 likes
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