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Item #: BK1906- 861
MOUNTAINS OF THE MIND: HOW DESOLATE AND FORBIDDING HEIGHTS WERE TRANSFORMED INTO EXPERIENCES OF INDOMITABLE SPIRIT Robert Macfarlane 2003 1st UK ed Hardcover DJ Fine
By Macfarlane, Robert
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London, Granta, 2003, 1st edition. 306 pp, photos. Hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.

If you have ever wondered why people climb mountains, here is your book with all the answers. Mountains haven't always been viewed as magnificent tests of bravery or even as scenic vacation spots - only in the last few centuries have Westerners found them worthy of attention. As British writer Macfarlane points out, 'until well into the 1700s, travelers who had to cross the Alpine passes often chose to be blindfolded,' sparing themselves the terrors of the view.

His point throughout this strangely compelling volume is that our attitudes toward mountains are very much a cultural product, a rich mix of theological, geological, artistic and social forces. With the development of geological science in the early 1800s, mountains, once viewed as 'giant souvenirs of humanity's sinfulness,' came to be seen as part of the earth's historical record. Recognized as 'the great stone book' of history, mountains opened a window into 'deep time,' a glimpse of eternity. The thrill of vertigo, the infatuation with the unknown, the Social Darwinist challenge of the survival of the fittest, the march of British imperialism, even advances in cartography-all shaped the social imagination of mountains.

As Western adventurers were increasingly lured from the Swiss Alps to the Himalayas, Macfarlane closes his study with the ill-fated Mallory expeditions to Everest, so mythic they almost defy analysis. The book itself is rather like some idiosyncratic, hand-drawn map of terra incognita. But for romantic, mountain-struck readers, Macfarlane's rich thoughts may make snow clouds clear, revealing new peaks and new wonders. Three centuries ago, mountains were considered forbidding and forbidden — the abodes of dragons and other ill-tempered grotesque beasts. But with the growing recognition that the Earth’s surface had not been created once and for all but was slowly evolving, mountains came to be seen as the unexplored text of the Earth’s story — a terrain that scientists, adventurers, naturalists, and, finally, travelers began to explore.

In Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane blends cultural history, meditation, and memoir to show how early geologists helped transform our perceptions of the wild, chaotic landscapes; how the allure of height increasingly drew fearless climbers, culminating in the romantic figure of George Mallory, the passionate Englishman who died on Mount Everest in 1924; and how the elemental beauty of snow and ice coalesced into an aesthetic of the sublime. Mountains of the Mind is at once an enthralling work of history, an intimate account of Macfarlane’s own experiences, and a beautifully written meditation on how memory, landscape, imagination, and the landscape of mountains are joined together in our minds and under our feet. 


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