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Item #: BK1692-295
ADDICTED TO DANGER: A MEMOIR ABOUT AFFIRMING LIFE IN THE FACE OF DEATH Jim Wickwire and Dorothy Bullitt 1999 New Paperback
By Wickwire, Jim
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New York, 1999. 322 pp, many b/w photos, index. New paperback.

Wickwire is one of the best American mountaineers, having done the first American ascent of K2, and much more. Here is the story of a man who has come closer to death more times than most of us.

In 1978 Jim Wickwire became the first American to top 28,250-foot K2, the second highest peak after Mt. Everest (for some, his solo bivouac near the summit the same night is an even greater feat). But it is a previous expedition to K2 three years earlier--and the author's unflinching assessment of that trip--which sets the tone for the book. "K2, the mountain that would one day represent my greatest success," he writes, "was in 1975 the scene of my greatest failure. It was a failure not because someone died or suffered a serious injury, but because my obsession to reach the summit helped doom our expedition to disappointment, discord, and, for a time, disgrace."

Wickwire's memoir of a climbing life is riveting when he sticks to the mountains--including attempts on Everest, Denali, and Aconcagua--and particularly fascinating for its candid look at the internal machinations of big-time climbing expeditions: the planning, logistics, and training as well as the egos and rivalries that can derail an expedition. The lugubrious details are also here. More than one climbing partner doesn't escape from a crevasse, but it is a price exacted by the mountains, and Wickwire treats both his lost friends and the terrain with due respect

 Terrible title, but a good adventure story mixed with meditations on the meaning of life and death and dying. Wickwire is one of the world's most accomplished mountain climbers. For over 30 years he has challenged the great summits: Everest, K2 in the Himalayas, Mt. McKinley, and so many others. Some of these mountains he has conquered, some have conquered him, but he has never lost his desire to climb. The descriptions of his adventures are gripping tales. Yet ``off the mountains,'' the writing is unengaging, despite the stylistic contributions of co-author Bullitt.Wickwire's family, for instance, is present throughout the book, and hes clearly devoted to them, yet the reader does not get more than a one-dimensional understanding of them. On the other hand, the people with whom he climbs are finely sketched; they are real and complex.

Perhaps this is because when hes not climbing, life is, both literally and figuratively, flat; perhaps only when he is in danger does he truly become alive and observant. Wickwire, however, spends little time being introspective here, until (and very effectively) near the end of the book. Both author and reader suddenly realize this book has been about death, the deaths of so many friends on the slopes: fellow climbers, a young woman he dearly loved.

The brutal murder off the slopes of his law partner causes him to question hoary clichs about adventure: Is dying while doing what one loves any less terrible, any less terrifying, than dying another way? Why purposely put oneself in harm's way? Seemingly disillusioned, this aging athlete responds to his crisis of faith in perhaps the only way he knows how: He climbs a mountain. In the end, the reader knows little about why people like Wickwire are addicted to danger. It may be an unanswerable question.


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