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Item #: BK868A-349
ALL ELEVATIONS UNKNOWN: AN ADVENTURE IN THE HEART OF BORNEO Sam Lightner 2001 Paperback Advance Reading Copy Fine
By Lightner, Sam
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2001, 1st edition, advance reading copy. 198 pp. Paperback. Fine.

In March 1945, a smart but rowdy British officer named Tom Harrison parachuted into the Borneo Highlands and set about organizing an army of headhunters to battle the Japanese invaders. He knew the difficult country a little, having been there on a scientific expedition before the war, but now, ''shepherded to the island by the world's most lucrative sponsor, the Dogs of War,'' he had to learn its secrets, and quickly. 
 
In 1958, Harrison wrote a memoir, World Within, chronicling his time on the island. Looking for new places to explore, Wyoming rock-scrambler Sam Lightner and his German climbing partner happened on Harrison's book, studied it closely, and, with four other ''dirt-bag'' climbers, went off to Borneo to find the peak of their dreams in the cloud forests, in country that maps ''tinted gray and labeled 'All Elevations Unknown'.'' Battling unusual elements--including having to ''cough up the larvae of echinococcosus'' and dodge giant snakes, to say nothing of the area's still-active headhunting bands--they found it, scaled the spire called Batu Lawi, and lived to tell the tale.

Their exploits form the heart of Lightner's good-natured narrative, which draws on Harrison's own account of jungle warfare to become a work of history as much as outdoors travel. Climbers, students of World War II, and armchair adventurers alike will enjoy his report. --Gregory McNamee 


From Publishers Weekly

First-time author Lightner, a well-known rock climber, presents a memorable if somewhat problematic travel-adventure memoir of his 1999 climb up Borneo's Batu Lawi, an all-but-unknown peak in a rough jungle. He approaches the peak armed only with regional maps, none of which show the mountain, and a book called World Within, a travel memoir published in 1958 by Tom Harrison, a British officer who parachuted onto the mountain during WWII to establish an Allied base. Drawn to Harrison's book, Lightner intersperses chapters about his climb with chapters retelling Harrison's story, building dramatic tension to the climaxes of both tales. He occasionally refers to his funding from a hiking supply company, and one sometimes wonders how sponsorship affected the story, though to Lightner's credit, the narrative seems free of commercial agenda.
 
More problematic are the imagined dialogues between Harrison and his colleagues; Lightner admits they are based on second- and third-hand accounts, and the conceit feels strained. ''Although it is not pure history, it comes very close,'' Lightner claims. Harrison settled on Borneo with a Kelabit (a local ethnicity) wife and helped the island improve its educational and political structures. But Lightner's own story, his natural flair for writing and the inspiration he derives from Harrison's life would have been sufficiently interesting to support a more traditional approach to Harrison's tale. As it is, though, this remains a wonderful introduction to an island and culture known to few people.

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