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The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest    by Broughton Coburn order for
Vast Unknown
by Broughton Coburn
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

It's been over fifty years since the greatest climb in American history Broughton Coburn's The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest tells the story of the mountain and the American men who dared to climb it.

Mount Everest has challenged men since the beginning. Considered the tallest peak in the world, it fights man's desire to ascend with constant winds, avalanches, snow, rain, ice, sheer cliffs, narrow paths, and everything else that can be thrown at a climber by something inanimate. Although there are those who would dispute the inanimate part.

A group of scientific men decided the mountain must be climbed for the information they would find on this behemoth such as wind velocity, the rate of melting of glaciers, and, surely, the stamina of those who chose to climb her. And for the political benefit. In the era of the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and the Space Race, they felt this would be the time to go, in order to bolster America's confidence and optimism.

I have my own feelings about this venture. Death is just around every bend on that mountain. Twenty-six men left for the base camp. Oh, I forgot to mention the guides the men who would carry all the supplies for these twenty-six to return in one piece. Many, many, many of them. They not only carried. They cooked, pitched tents, took care of those who became ill, and maintained even temperaments in the most stark of conditions.

This was a momentous undertaking that had to have taken much courage to even contemplate. The group's story is told down to the minutest detail, even to frozen toes and, at times, a dearth of oxygen. The Vast Unknown by Broughton Coburn is well worth the read, especially for those who only dream of doing the same thing. It's thrilling, exciting, suspenseful and never, ever dull.

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