... gripping ... Ellsworth...recasts the era as a Great Himalayan Race, a push for national supremacy in the shadow of Nazism, a kind of Indiana Jones contest in which the prize is not an ark or idol, but a summit. It works brilliantly, capturing the period and national flavour of the expeditions, as well as the urgency ... Ellsworth’s singular focus on the tripartite rivalry between Britain, Nazi Germany and the US, and on the 1930s, does mean he downplays other nations’ efforts ... His account of the 1953 ascent of Everest—and of Tenzing’s transformation from humble Sherpa porter to co-equal international climber—feels unusually fresh.
... [a] fast-paced survey of Himalayan mountaineering history ... To help readers follow his whipsaw tale, Mr. Ellsworth provides a chronological appendix of expeditions, a glossary of mountaineering terms and a top-shelf collection of descriptive endnotes. He has done excellent primary research, particularly with German sources, but most of Mr. Ellsworth’s anecdotes are reduced from classics of mountaineering literature ... Mr. Ellsworth’s revisionist touches help 21st-century readers see the Sherpas as individuals and give the traditional narrative of Himalayan conquest a fairer reading through the lens of imperialism ... Unfortunately, Mr. Ellsworth’s narrative compressions are so extreme that his book reads like a summary of mountaineering history for the easily distracted.
... [a] thrilling though sometimes episodic and repetitive account of the extraordinary athletes, daredevils, visionaries, and fools who joined in the competition to scale the world’s highest peaks between the 1930s and the mid-1950s ... Many of these journeys—an overwhelming accumulation of names, places, and physical and mental trials in high-altitude hell—blur together in Ellsworth’s telling. But his evocations of the era, when simply journeying to staging areas through unstable corners of Asia could be a perilous adventure, are superb ... Ellsworth captures the sinister atmosphere of 1930s Munich, the heartland of both the Nazi Party and the burgeoning mountaineering industry ... The last section of Ellsworth’s book grippingly recreates the conquest of Everest in May 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. This story has been told many times before, including in Hillary’s own memoir, but Ellsworth provides new background and a reminder that their achievement was the culmination of decades of laborious progress and geopolitical twists and turns.
The World Beneath Their Feet contains plenty of rollicking stories, but reading it is nevertheless something of a trudge. To reach the end, intrepid readers must brave the blizzard of Ellsworth’s clumsy metaphors, tiptoe round his broken grammar, and skirt the yawning crevasses of hyperbole into which his prose frequently falls ... Weighing up these risks against the reward, the sensible reader might conclude that The World Beneath Their Feet is a peak not to be assailed, but to be squinted at, from the safe distance of a book review.
An epic account of the Great Himalayan Race ... every detail of this complex struggle is thoroughly recounted ... The story is beautifully written ... it soon becomes clear that the story doesn’t have any real direction. It falls into a repetitive cycle, where every few pages a new expedition is described in unnecessary detail without the necessary emotion to compel the reader to keep reading. Ellsworth breezes by the death, hardship and trials of the human spirit that characterize these grueling expeditions with a nonchalant ease, leaving us with a [book] that describes these events with an almost textbook impartiality. The World Beneath Their Feet is meticulously researched, but the level of detail that Ellsworth incorporates about the innumerable climbers he discusses makes the novel dense and unpleasant to read ... a barrage of names, dates and purposeless facts that only serve to confuse the reader and draw all emotion out of the story. Each new climber Ellsworth introduces becomes just another faceless individual, lost in the sea of dreamers who more often than not do not achieve their goals ... Though an avid mountaineer may enjoy this...it is inaccessible to the average person looking for a glimpse into the mysterious minds of Himalayan climbers.
Focusing on the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s, Ellsworth introduces some of those climbing pioneers here, effectively blending world events into the stories of the various treks ... Overall, an exceptional account of trailblazing mountaineers who persevered during a turbulent time in history.
Ellsworth...writes a comprehensive introduction to high-altitude mountaineering ... A helpful appendix details important figures in the sport as well as expeditions and climbing terms ... An excellent overview of mountaineering and exploration in the Himalayas and Karakoram, set against the backdrop of 20th-century history, that will appeal to mountaineers and armchair adventurers.
In vivid, novelistic prose, the author describes the significant expeditions and delivers engaging portraits of climbers from many different countries and their invaluable Sherpas ... A captivating, rousing adventure story.