As A CHILD Robert Macfarlane chanced upon a copy of The Fight for Everest, an account of the epic 1924 expedition on which George Mallory and Sandy Irvine vanished into the mists on the summit ridge. He quickly became a mountain junkie, beguiled by 'the beauty and danger of the landscape, the immensities of space, the utter uselessness of it all'. As soon as he could, he started climbing. It might be risky, but Macfarlane looked to the achievements of Maurice Herzog. that Homeric figure who made the first ascent of Annapurna at the expense of most of his digits. 'For what were toes and fingers', muses Macfarlane, 'compared to having stood on those few square yards of snow?'
Mountains of the Mind begins with a brief trot through the history of climbing ('Three centuries ago, risking one's life to climb a mountain would have been considered tantamount to lunacy'). Nine chapters then focus on different aspects of peaks and peak-worship, fiom geology to the 'pursuit of fear' that