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No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts

>> Monday, September 24, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 323
Non-Fiction Five #5

From the inside cover:

For eighteen years Ed Viesturs pursued climbing's holy grail: to stand atop the world's fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, without the aid of bottled oxygen. But No Shortcuts to the Top is as much about the man who would become the first American to achieve that goal as it is about his stunning quest. As Viesturs recounts the stories of his most harrowing climbs, he reveals a man torn between the flat, safe world he and his loved ones share and the majestic and deadly places where only he can go.

A preternaturally cautious climber who once turned back 300 feet from the top of Everest but who would not shrink from a peak (Annapurna) known to claim the life of one climber for every two who reached its summit, Viesturs lives by an unyielding motto, "Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory." It is with this philosophy that he vividly describes fatal errors in judgement made by his fellow climbers as well as few of his own close calls and gallant rescues. And, for the first time, he details his own pivotal and heroic role in the 1996 Everest disaster made famous in Jan Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

In addition to the raw excitement of Viesturs's odyssey, No Shortcuts to the Top is leavened with many funny moments revealing the camaraderie between climbers. It is more than the first full account of one of the staggering accomplishments of our time; it is a portrait of a brave and devoted family man and his beliefs that shaped this most perilous and magnificent pursuit.

Well, not exactly. I wanted to love this book. I loved Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and from the reviews had expected this to be as compelling and interesting. It wasn’t close. The basic facts and information about Ed Viesturs’ initial interest in and eventual pursuit of mountain climbing as a career are fine, but when he actually gets into the meat of the story, which is his pursuit of summiting the 14 highest mountains in the world, the book loses its way. This could have used either a different co-author or a better editor or both. The story is told in a non-linear format. I was expecting to read about his climbing adventures in a first to last time line format. Unfortunately, he jumps around and jumps back and forth and between expeditions in a way that didn’t work for me.

Viesturs is clearly a highly qualified and careful mountain climber who has achieved something that few others have or ever will. That doesn’t mean that he’s good at writing and relating the story of that achievement. I’d like to read more about his adventures when they are written by someone else in a third person narrative. I read the whole thing, but won’t bother putting it on The Hubster’s “you need to read these” pile.


Literary Feline 9/25/2007 2:40 PM  

It certainly sounds interesting; I'm sorry it wasn't better.

SuziQoregon 9/25/2007 7:22 PM  

Literary Feline: yeah - me too :-( There was potential to be really fascinating, but it just didn't pull it off for me.

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