In the 1930s, a little-known World War I veteran named Maurice Wilson conceives that he will fly a plane from England to Mount Everest, crash-land on its lower slopes, then become the first person to reach its summit--all alone. In 1933, he takes off from London in a Gipsy Moth biplane with his course set for the highest mountain on earth.
... what a story ... How has this story slipped into a crevasse in the glacier of time, lying frozen and largely forgotten for so long? Perhaps the world is better now at embracing eccentricity and – (not too much of a) spoiler alert! – failure than it was. Where once he was dismissed as a madman and an embarrassment, now Wilson can be properly celebrated. In another kind of adventure in which chaps took themselves to the most unforgiving places, Donald Crowhurst’s story is a more intriguing one than that of Robin Knox-Johnston, who succeeded where Crowhurst failed. Perhaps Wilson is to Everest and aviation what Crowhurst is to sailing alone around the world ... this is a personal book. Not only does [Caesar] set out almost obsessively to get to understand Wilson and his motivation, he also wants to understand his own almost-obsession ... Wilson’s story is bonkers, but also beautiful. The profile Caesar builds is compelling, colourful and warm – of a complex, contradictory man with admirable self-belief and a healthy disregard for class boundaries and national borders. The boy from Bradford for whom Mount Everest’s icy peak was a shining light, the flame to which the Moth was inexorably drawn. And that’s a story that rarely ends well.
This bonkers ripping yarn of derring-don’t is a hell of a ride. It is an eye-opener into the mind of a daredevil for those of us whose idea of risky business would be, as Victoria Wood put it, to step on to an escalator in a soft-soled shoe ... Caesar dashes off Wilson’s formation with journalistic panache, neatly colouring in the outlines of his background and war service, with succinct digressions on shellshock, the economic development of Bradford, and Wilson’s survival of the war ... scrupulously researched — Caesar has not just tramped the fields of Wijtschate, but looped the loop in a plane like Wilson’s — but with no damage done to the flow of the story. (Although I scratched my head over what the book Sexual Life in Ancient Greece was doing in the bibliography) ... The story of how a man could be driven to try to scale this 'giant’s tooth made of rock and ice' has a built-in excitement, but Caesar enhances the flavour with extracts from Wilson’s letters to the third woman in his life, Enid Evans, and from his diary. Wilson’s voice is as characterful and funny as we might expect of someone with this much 'pluck' ... Maurice Wilson was a one-off, quite outside the ordinary run of people, and The Moth and the Mountain is a 'sorry, beautiful, melancholy, crazy' tribute to a man who, like a leaf in autumn, burnt brightest just before he fell.
This tale of a 'driven and defiant' amateur and his dream is true and presented with brio by Ed Caesar ... The author is a talented storyteller with a flair for detail. His subject’s absurdity is not lost on him. Yet Mr. Caesar also displays a handsome refusal to laugh at anyone’s dreams ... Wilson’s story is an entry less in the annals of mountaineering than in the Book of Life. That such an extraordinary person even existed is cause for celebration ... To give every detail of Wilson’s tenacious struggle upon Everest would be to spoil an outstanding book ... returns readers to a romantic era when Everest was terra nova rather than an experience to be bought. It remained unvanquished. From the first page we know Wilson never stood a chance. But no one ever made a more dashing attempt.