INTO THE SILENCE: THE GREAT WAR, MALLORY AND THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST
by Wade Davis
The First World War was one of the nastiest ever visited upon the Earth. Millions died and those who came back unscathed faced the prospect of all but being ignored by their governments and fellow countrymen.
In attempting to explain their disillusionment, Davis presents the war in all of its horror - the trench warfare, the chemical attacks, and the utter futility of military decisions that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of young British soldiers. Following WW1 England was no longer the number one military power in the world, having lost an entire generation of its youth to the war. As a side note, I would like to point that the nation losing the greatest number of men in proportion to its population was Australia, with a casualty rate of 65% with the loss of 60,000 men and injuries to 150,000 more.
Davis also educates the reader on the agony, pain and skills required to become a mountain climber. Through the pages of INTO THE SILENCE you learn of the sheer willpower necessary to tackle something as immensely foreboding as Mt Everest.
And there are also the lessons of class in English society as it existed in the 1920s and what it meant to not be a person of class because you did not attend the right schools or have the proper family background.
The preeminent star of the book is, of course, George Mallory who made three failed attempts to conquer the mountain. Throughout there is an overarching degree of hope, the hope of standing atop - if only for a moment - the tallest mountain in the world. And with that hope there comes luck and as we know luck can swing both ways.
Without sparing a detail, Davis fulfills the readers' desire to understand what it was like to attempt to climb Everest in the 1920s. A fascinating read and highly recommended.
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THE WILL TO CLIMB: OBSESSION AND COMMITTEMENT TO CLIMB ANNAPURNA - THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST PEAK
by Ed Viesturs
To climbers, Mt Everest is the pinnacle, but there is one peak that draws climbers from around the world, not because of its height (it is the tenth highest peak in the world) but because of its danger. Annapurna is statistically the world's most deadly peak. And that is what draws climbers.
Ed Viesturs was a teenager in the flatlands of Illinois when he became fascinated with Annapurna, and as he set out in the 1980s to climb the 14 highest peaks in the world he faced, with trepidation, the challenge of Annapurna. Two failed attempts in 2000 and 2002 made the mountain his archenemy and steeled his resolve to conquer the peak - without the use of supplemental oxygen.
The book is an interesting - albeit confusing at times - read as it covers the history of many failed and the few successful climbs of the mountain. The book begins with Viesturs describing his 2000 failed attempt to tackle the north face of the mountain, where he and his teammates experienced the biggest avalanche any of them had ever seen, and that helped make the decision to end their climb because, "the risks are too dangerous."
From there the book moves on to the historic climbs that resulted in triumph, failure and death, with chapters devoted in detail to each climbing success or failure.
The book ends with Viesturs' successful climb with partner Veikka Gustafsson on 12 May 2005 making him - at that time - only the twelfth person to climb all of the 14, 8,000 meter (26,000+ feet) peaks in the world.
Adventure of this caliber is difficult to find and THE WILL TO CLIMB provides the reader with adventure aplenty. A large color picture section provides a glimpse of what this most evil of mountains looks like along with the people determined to reach her summit.
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BLIND DESCENT: THE QUEST TO DISCOVER THE DEEPEST PLACE ON EARTH
by James M. Tabor
In opposition to those who seek the highest peaks in search of adventure, there is a group of people who want to find the reverse - the deepest places on Earth. The thrill of the unknown is pervasive throughout this book as a group of extremophiles (cool word, huh?) seek out the access routes that will lead them 7,000 feet into the Earth.
I will admit to claustrophobia when it comes to spelunking and this book goes way beyond the casual exploration of a cave found somewhere in the desert or on a mountainside. This is serious business - cave diving - that is fraught with the terrifying consequences of rapturous panic attacks, cave-ins and (gulp) the occasional accidental death. Ropes, helmet lights and re-breathers are the life force for these intrepid individuals who deal with unbelievable heat and humidity as they descend into the Earth.
The book reaches into the category of trying to find the last great adventure on Earth and succeeds in some measure, but then again no one knows for sure where the deepest cave on Earth is located, so we are left with following the American Bill Stone and his arch rival, the Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk, as they each pursue what they believe to be the deepest cave on the planet.
With that said, I should comment that the book is an entertaining and exciting read and one that might inspire others to go "super-caving" - but not me.
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THE LONESOME PLAINS
by Louis Fairchild
Life on the Great Plains of America was a hard one. Those settlers who made the move to what had been termed The Great American Desert, or the Llano Estacado, faced numerous travails - the vagaries of weather, a harsh life and land that was long thought untenable for crops or cattle. Something that has rarely been mentioned is what drove many of those settlers to near madness - particularly the women - was the abject loneliness of life where the nearest neighbor was miles, and in many cases literally days away.
In THE LONESOME PLAINS, author Fairchild relies on oral histories, diaries and published sources to tell the stories of just one section of the country - the Texas Panhandle - and the people who settled that barren and lonely land. To demonstrate just how lonely this part of the country was, in 1880 the first federal census of the Texas Panhandle turned up 1,607 residents across the 26 counties comprised of 25,610 square miles. No one lived in six of the counties, seven had populations ranging from 3 to 25 and nine others had 28 to 100 residents. It was not uncommon for a person to know not only everyone in their own county, but in many neighboring counties as well.
What brought people together who hungered for human contact were the misfortunes of life - sickness, accidents and death. In time annual camp meetings and revivals would bring people together following journeys of many days. One poignant example of why people remained to deal with the loneliness is the story of a family that was preparing to move away, back to where there were people, when an infant son suddenly died. The woman refused to leave her son alone in the vastness of the Plains and the family remained.
Susan Newcomb lived in the Fort Davis area in the 1860s and wrote in her diary - "Sunday May 5th 1867 ... I am so lonesome, Oh very lonesome. I actually think that it is almost a sin for person to live where they scarcly (sic) ever see anyone and are always lonesome. We have been living here over a year and there has been one woman to see us, only one."
This is a fascinating volume that covers a subject, without academic droning, virtually unknown to anyone today. A strongly suggested read for the American history buff.
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THE OBAMA HATERS: BEHIND THE RIGHT-WING CAMPAIGN OF LIES, INNUENDO & RACISM
by John Wright
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" - Exodus 20-16
Published and initially reviewed in 2011 this volume is still an important read for anyone interested in how the right developed a plan to discredit President Obama through a non-stop litany of lies that continue today. The book has seen multiple printings, indicative of a continuing interest by objective Americans in getting to the truth.
Award winning author Wright investigated the persistent expressions of hatred for our nation's president and connects them to the historical political mudslinging and virulent right-wing smear tactics of the preceding two decades. Wright fully understands and supports the right of Americans to criticize their elected leaders, but firmly believes any such criticism must be based on facts - not made-up nonsense designed to inflame the gullible.
This well-researched volume covers the myriad birther lies, Limbaugh's "Magic Negro" trash, along with the charges of the President being a socialist, Marxist, fascist, Maoist, communist, anti-American, Kenyan born, Indonesian, homosexual who traveled the world on a British passport as a youth.
Included are amazing lists and details of the myriad websites and right wing shouting heads dedicated to fomenting hatred through the constant repetition of lies. Of course the usual prevaricators are represented - Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann, Palin, Hannity. Ingraham, Corsi, Malkin, and all of the rest, along, of course, with FAUX News.
An interesting source of fully documented information designed to make any rightie run screaming into the night as they flee from the light of truth.
"Liars are the cause of all the sins and crimes" - Epictetus
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BANISHED: SURVIVING MY YEARS IN THE WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH
by Lauren Drain
It is disheartening to watch people who claim to be Christians preach and demonstrate hate in ways that challenge the very bounds of humanity. The Westboro Baptist Church is without a doubt the most hateful group of miscreants to ever bind together under the guise of being a "church." They show up at the funerals of American troops and celebrate their deaths while claiming these brave Americans are going to hell. In BANISHED, the author goes beyond revealing these evil and unprincipled fiends by going deep inside this "Christian" church to show how their interpersonal actions fly in the face of common sense. One mother was brainwashed to celebrate her children - who had escaped the cult - going to hell because they were "unworthy." The author delves deeply into how extremist religions damage all those who come under the spell of those who preach hate and distort or ignore the words of God.
Drain was condemned, termed an apostate and finally excommunicated when she questioned why the Phelps family was not held to the standards of "godliness" forced on other members of the church; why there are dramatic inconsistencies between the Bible and the doctrine of the Westboro group; and why the church leaders would not address those questions.
As with most cults, or even individuals who profess to be Christians while ignoring God's words, the Westboro followers believe they are under no duty to follow the standards set by God. The author faced ostracism by her family and her siblings were told she no longer existed.
This is a disturbing book and despite grammatical problems needs to be read so that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church can be brought into the bright light of common sense. It should be remembered that simply quoting Bible passages is not indicative of an understanding of God's words and in many cases such actions are used by charlatans to mislead the gullible
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WINDFALL: THE BOOMING BUSINESS OF GLOBAL WARMNG
by McKenzie Funk
Despite the naysayers, who ignorantly follow the erroneous nonsense put forth by such learned "experts" as Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin and the entire group of pathetic know-nothings representing FAUX News, Climate Change is an actuality and how we manage the changes will be important for future generations. With 97% of the worlds scientists accepting Climate Change along with many in the fields of finance and industry, the author of WINDFALL follows the money to see who is planning to profit from Climate Change - while, in some cases, denying it exists.
In typical fashion, the entrepreneurial crowd refuses to consider doing anything as mundane as looking towards conservation or energy efficiency, choosing instead to seek out those things that will make lots of money.
Technological solutions at first appear to be reasonable. Israel has pioneered water desalination techniques. As more of the world's fresh water turns to salt water, the value of desalination becomes vital, but that process requires lots of energy, which in turn emits lots of carbon, thereby increasing warming, which leads to less freshwater and more saltwater. In effect, creating a vicious circle.
Even more questionable are the ways Arctic governments (the United States being one) and energy companies are taking advantage of the less-frozen regions for everything from increased agricultural activity to oil drilling. However while northern Canada is primed to be able to take advantage of these resources, they are uncomfortably aware that those "new" resources coupled with their relatively small armed forces will increase their national vulnerability.
Some companies are working on technology that is straight out of science fiction. Geoengineering has attracted the greatest interest from both politicians (e.g. Newt Gingrich) and philanthro-capitalists (with Bill Gates providing funding). The basic idea is to counteract carbon pollution not with known solutions like conservation (asking people to consume less is considered heretical by many) but with a lot of sulfur high in the atmosphere. If the logical question after "Why?" is "How?" not to worry. Many well-known companies, including Boeing are signing on to be a part of this solution...if it is truly a solution.
It would be nice if everyone, particularly those who continue to deny climate change, would read WINDFALL. Climate change is for real and there are many ready and waiting to make money - lots of money - from it. Shell has been building it into its corporate strategic planning for decades. However, there remains the admonition that those of us in the Northern portion of the hemisphere will be all right, but only in the short term. In time everyone will be impacted and many already have - the victims of Sandy and Katrina come to mind.
WINDFALL is a highly recommend volume.
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