Three centuries ago, mountains were considered forbidding and forbidden—the abodes of dragons and other ill-tempered grotesque beasts. But with the growing recognition that the Earth’s surface had not been created once and for all but was slowly evolving, mountains came to be seen as the unexplored text of the Earth’s story—a terrain that scientists, adventurers, naturalists, and, finally, travelers began to explore. In Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane blends cultural history, meditation, and memoir to show how early geologists helped transform our perceptions of the wild, chaotic landscapes; how the allure of height increasingly drew fearless climbers, culminating in the romantic figure of George Mallory, the passionate Englishman who died on Mount Everest in 1924; and how the elemental beauty of snow and ice coalesced into an aesthetic of the sublime.
Mountains of the Mind is at once an enthralling work of history, an intimate account of Macfarlane’s own experiences, and a beautifully written meditation on how memory, landscape, imagination, and the landscape of mountains are joined together in our minds and under our feet.
“This is the sort of book that restores confidence in the travel genre. Erudite, full of information you did not know you wanted to know, and charged with the author’s singular passion for his subject.” —Robyn Davidson, author of Tracks
“A compelling meditation on what draws man to risk himself to be on top of empty, dangerous crags, this is an assemblage of dreamers and athletes, the bloody-minded and crazed—all those proud and ultimately helpless protagonists who take on the lofty slopes of the mountains which are Macfarlane’s fascination. He has been up there and come back down through the foothills to offer us his thoughtful and gracious elegy, telling us eloquently the secret of it all, which is that no one can ever truly conquer a mountain.” —Benedict Allen, editor of The Faber Book of Exploration
“If you have ever wondered why people climb mountains, here is your answer. Part history, part personal observation, this is a fascinating study of our (sometimes fatal) obsession with height. A brilliant book, beautifully written.” —Fergus Fleming, author of Ninety Degrees North
“What a vertiginously skilled writer! This is a terrific exploration, abundant with sensorial nuance, of our human obsession with stony heights. Despite its apt title and the history of ideas that it expertly narrates, Macfarlane’s book really shows how the Earth’s mountains, cloud-kissed and implacable, steadily resist and refute the successive attempts of the human mind to scale them.” —David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous