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Item #: BK666C-953
THE MYSTERY OF MALLORY & IRVINE Holzel and Salkeld 1999 Softcover Fine
By Holzel, Tom and Audrey Salkeld
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Seattle, The Mountaineers, 1999. 362 pp, b/w photos. Softcover. Fine. 

This book explores Mallory the man, plus the 1924 climb itself. The possibility that he made the top is explored in depth with additional material based on the finding of Mallory's body. Foreword by Eric Simonson.

Holzel's name is mud among the British Climbing establishment, ever since he managed to corral a genuine Everest historian - his co-author Audrey Salkeld - and write this book. Actually, it was mud long before. In the early '70s, this American businessman and amateur climber had the audacity to spring a theory on the British public that one of their greatest heroes, George Mallory, might have succeeded, rather than failed to have climbed Mt. Everest in 1924.

The British Climbing Establishment, a number of who knew and revered Mallory, were outraged. Had this foreign interloper no sense of history, no shame? The statement that proved his total lack of knowledge of this epic saga, the critics patiently explained to the media, was his claim that proof could still be found on the body of one of the climbers--he said it would be Irvine-who should still be found on a snow terrace on Mt. Everest at 8200m. If somebody would only go and look, the camera Irvine was carrying would hold pictures of the fatal climb, perhaps even showing a photo from the summit.

The clamor rose a few decibels more when in 1980 Holzel reported to the NY Times that the body of 'an English dead' had indeed been found on Everest's North Face at 8100m by a Chinese porter who died the day after reporting his find. Another 'Everest Ghost' the British public exclaimed. 'How convenient' the establishment elders muttered. In 1986, Holzel and Salkeld mounted an expedition to the north side of Everest to search for the body at 8200m. They failed in all respects save one. On literally the last day of their three-month expedition, Holzel managed to meet with the tent-mate of the person who claimed to have found the English dead. This claim had been strenuously denied by the Chinese Mountaineering Association, and other government officials. But the tent-mate admitted that Wang Hung-Bao had said he had indeed found "a foreign mountaineer."

This classic book contains two exciting stories: First there is the story of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who were last spotted seemingly a few hours below the summit of the world's highest peak, which raised the glorious possibility that they had perhaps reached the summit before perishing on the descent. Salkeld in particular has tracked down and discovered a trove of unpublished letters, and theirs is the first modern reading of Mallory the man, a reading much necessitated in view of the previous biographies, many of which verge on hagiography. And there is the second story, equally fascinating, of the authors' heroic efforts to find out what did happen. It is this story, a modern tale, that shows how large a role is played by luck when the ambition is there to pave its path.

There are now a slew of new books on this stirring subject-most based on the Simonson Expedition of 1999 which discovered the body - not of Irvine, but of George Mallory himself, and, astonishingly, discovered it exactly where Holzel had predicted nearly 30 years earlier. The Simonson book 'Ghosts of Everest' is also required reading for anyone interested in this famous saga. What I found the most interesting in 'The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine' was the acuity of their theorizing and their genius at selecting certain facts from amidst a welter of conflicting data, facts that seemed strange selections at first but which then turn out - 10 or 20 years later - to have been exactly correct. Holzel's ideas about who Wang found (Mallory and not Irvine) once again go against the current wisdom; but his description of the deductive reasoning by which he arrived at his latest conclusions are alone worth the price of the book. As for the rest of it, well, it was an instant classic when it came out in 1985.


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