While tension steadily rose between European powers in the 1930s, a different kind of battle was raging across the Himalayas. Contingents from Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States had set up rival camps at the base of the mountains, all hoping to become recognized as the fastest, strongest, and bravest climbers in the world.
... 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.
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.