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.
... [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.