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The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineerby David Roberts
Synopses & Reviews
American Brad Washburn had an impact on his protégés and imitators as profound as that of any other adventurer in the twentieth century. Unquestionably regarded as the greatest mountaineer in Alaskan history and as one of the finest mountain photographers of all time, Washburn transformed American attitudes toward wilderness and revolutionized the art of mountaineering and exploration in the great ranges. In The Last of His Kind, National Geographic Adventure contributing editor David Roberts goes beyond conventional biography to reveal the essence of this man through the prism of his extraordinary exploits from New England to Chamonix, the Himalaya to the Yukon.
Washburn's remarkable achievements—including nine first ascents of North American peaks—would stamp him not only as one of a kind, but as one of a kind they don't make anymore. Born June 7, 1910, to a Boston Brahmin family whose roots trace back to the Mayflower, this highly intelligent, impatient, and stubborn iconoclast published books, made a monumental first ascent in the French Alps that would become a touchstone in mountaineering history, and lectured on his adventures—including an address to the National Geographic Society—while still in his teens. In 1935, at the age of twenty-four, while others were turning their attention to the Himalaya, the Harvard-educated Washburn led a three-month journey across what was then the largest remaining unexplored territory in North America—the 6,400 square miles of glaciers and mountains in the frozen heart of Alaska's Saint Elias Range.
In addition to his prowess as a mountaineer and photographer, Washburn was also a renowned surveyor and cartographer, producing maps of little-known terrain—the Grand Canyon, Mt. McKinley, and Mt. Everest—that surpassed those that came before, and several of which remain the standard. He was also a scientist who would take a regional natural-history museum and transform it into one of the outstanding teaching institutions of its kind in the world.
Roberts introduces the family, teachers, friends, colleagues, and rivals who would play important roles in this legendary man's experiences, and re-creates his enthralling journeys to some of the most remote and beautifully wild places on earth. An exciting narrative of mountain climbing in the twentieth century, The Last of His Kind brings into focus Washburn's deeds in the context of the history of mountaineering, and provides a fascinating look at an amazing culture and the influential icon who shaped it.
"Before his 30th birthday, Bradford Washburn was already a legendary mountaineer, completing four major first ascents on his way to becoming 'the greatest mountaineer in Alaskan history.' Soon after, Washburn took over the creaky New England Museum of Natural History, which by his retirement in 1980, had become the renowned Boston Museum of Science. Washburn (1910 — 2007) was also an innovative cartographer as well as a self-taught photographer whose aerial shots garnered major acclaim. A longtime friend of Washburn and a former mountaineer, Roberts (No Shortcuts to the Top) is an ideal candidate for writing Washburn's biography, but the book lacks the depth of compelling biographies. Roberts's decision to extensively profile Washburn's various expeditions (and those of others) offers no insight on the man, while contributing to the book's glacial pace. Roberts obviously has nothing but admiration for Washburn and his accomplishments, but that inhibits opportunities to examine the dark side of Washburn's personal life — his responsibility for a fatal plane crash in 1938; son Ted's inappropriate behavior with high school students that divided the family — which are almost glossed over. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Part of the reason that David Roberts' biography of mountain-climber Bradburn Washburn is titled "The Last of His Kind" is that so often Washburn was the first of his kind: He achieved nine first ascents of peaks in North American alone, taking striking photographs along the way; some of these shots reduce great masses of rock or ice to abstract designs. He was also a cartographer and a curator: "At... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the age of only twenty-eight," Roberts writes, "he took over the moribund New England Museum of Natural History and transformed it during the next several decades into Boston's Museum of Science, one of the outstanding teaching institutions of its kind in the world." Roberts can count himself as one of Washburn's pupils. When Washburn got wind of an expedition that Roberts and some Harvard buddies planned to Mt. McKinley in the summer of 1963, he invited the group to his Cambridge house and conducted a show-and-tell with his own photographs. After pointing out a route that had never been climbed, he told them, "You fellows are up to it. Besides, you damned well better grab it before someone else does." As Roberts notes dryly of their success, "When Brad Washburn orders you to do something, you do it." Washburn died in January 2007, at the age of 96. Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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“Stunning and stirring.”
In The Last of His Kind, renowned adventure writer David Roberts gives readers a spellbinding history of mountain climbing in the twentieth century as told through the biography of Brad Washburn, legendary mountaineering pioneer and photographer. Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, has praised David Roberts, saying, “Nobody alive writes better about mountaineering”—and nowhere is that truth more evident than in this breathtaking account of the life and exploits of Americas greatest mountain climber.
About the Author
David Roberts is an avid climber and the author of more than twenty books, including The Mountain of My Fear, which was named on National Geographic Adventure's list of the 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time. His articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, Men's Journal, and Smithsonian, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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