Everest - David Long, ill.by Stefano Tambellini
I'm a massive David Long fan - his book, 'When Darwin Sailed The Sea', was one of the first books ever to feature when I started whatiread.co.uk, and 'Survivors' is a bookshelf 'must-have' in my Y6 classrooms! The pairing of his writing with Stefano Tambellini's illustrations was fantastic in 'Titanic' and paired again here with Barrington Stoke's brilliant presentation and reader-friendly format, this is another absolute smash hit for me.
Full of amazing accounts and stories of the place itself and the people that have battled its slopes, Everest reads in some places more like a thriller than a fact book, and I think that's what I like so much about David's work - it's not mundane facts and figures, but real-life gripping accounts of amazing feats made engaging and attention-grabbing for young readers.
I'm thrilled and very honoured that David has agreed to write an exclusive blog to go alongside this review for me:
Everest/David Long/4 October 2022
In an age when many hundreds of climbers attempt to reach the summit literally every
single year – and more than 4,000 of them have so far succeeded – it’s easy to forget just
how formidable and dangerous Mount Everest is. Easy as well to laugh at the report in the
Guardian newspaper, once Hilary and Tenzing had made it back from the summit in the late
spring of 1953, that ‘it is doubtful whether anyone will ever try to climb Everest again’.
But back then the idea that they could be the last as well as the first to conquer the world’s
highest peak wasn’t so far-fetched. Neither had it been at all obvious when they set off that
even their exceptionally well-planned and well-funded team (led by a British army colonel,
John Hunt) would actually succeed where so many others had failed during the preceding
Not for nothing is the region above 8,000 metres known as the ‘death zone’ and it’s
probably not too much of a stretch to suggest that, at the time the first ever attempt on the
summit came to grief in the 1920s, Everest must have seemed as exciting and as impossible
as landing a man on the Moon looked nearly half a century later.
The mountain may have been named after a Brit (who, by the way, objected to this idea on
the grounds that he’d never been there, and the locals would have trouble pronouncing his
name) but the fact is that not a single European had reached even its foothills before 1921.
At that time, a mere century ago, Everest was very much a place of myth and mystery – and
for many mountaineers it still is, despite their ever increasing numbers.
It’s not hard to see why. In a world of superlatives there’s still something truly special about
being the highest mountain, even though (professional mountaineers will tell you) there are
more challenging peaks around for those who want them. I’m not a climber but it’s certainly
always fascinated me, and from the moment I first heard of Maurice Wilson I was
determined to one day write a book about the mountain Tibetans call Chomolungma,
meaning ‘Goddess Mother of the World’.
Wilson, if you’ve not heard of him, was an eccentric Yorkshireman who decided more or less
on a whim to purchase an old Gipsy Moth biplane and fly it 5,000 miles to Tibet before
landing somewhere on the upper slopes of Everest and walking up to the top. Unfortunately
he wasn’t a pilot, and he certainly wasn’t a mountaineer. Also, I’ve never been quite clear
how he intended to get back down again, but I’ve always loved him and his brave if absurd
Needless to say it ended very badly. Wilson’s last diary entry read “Off again, gorgeous day”
but his body wasn’t found for another year, and it was nowhere near the summit. Despite
this gruesome ending, Wilson’s tale is actually one of the more light-hearted moments in
the story of how Everest came to be conquered. I say that because he seems to have
enjoyed himself somehow, whereas for Mallory, Irvine, Hilary and the rest of them it was
never anything less than a deadly slog, a battle of wills against nature and against their own
bodies, before – eventually – two of them finally made it to the top.
That they did so still amazes, no matter how many other climbers have followed in their
footsteps and never mind that some of the brilliant, inexhaustible local Sherpas who help
them achieve their dream have themselves been to the summit of the great mountain ten
or twenty times. In fact the record today is a staggering 28 times, but for me that first
ascent remains one of the greatest adventures in human history and that, ultimately, is why
I wrote this book.
Find out more about David's other titles via his website:
Publisher Barrington Stoke is one of my absolute favourites, with brilliant books by incredible authors, produced in a reader-friendly format to make them accessible for every child.
Find out more via their website: www.barringtonstoke.co.uk or by following them on Twitter as @BarringtonStoke
My thanks to them and Kirstin for the copy of the book and help organising the blog.
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) October 2022.