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The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everestby Broughton Coburn
Synopses & Reviews
By the author of the New York Times bestselling Everest: Mountain Without Mercy, this chronicle of the iconic first American expedition to Mt. Everest in May 1963 — published to coincide with the climb's 50th anniversary — combines riveting adventure, a perceptive analysis of its dark and terrifying historical context, and revelations about a secret mission that followed.
In the midst of the Cold War, against the backdrop of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the space race with the Soviet Union, and the quagmire of the Vietnam War, a band of iconoclastic, independent-minded American mountaineers set off for Mt. Everest, aiming to restore America's confidence and optimism. Their objective is to reach the summit while conducting scientific research, but which route will they take? Might the Chinese, in a public relations coup, have reached the top ahead of them? And what about another American team, led by the grandson of a President, that nearly bagged the peak in a bootleg attempt a year earlier?
The Vast Unknown is, on one level, a harrowing, character-driven account of the climb itself and its legendary team of alternately inspiring, troubled, and tragic climbers who suffered injuries, a near mutiny, and death on the mountain. It is also an examination of the profound sway the expedition had over the American consciousness and sense of identity during a time when the country was floundering. And it is an investigation of the expedition's little-known outcome: the selection of a team to plant a CIA surveillance device on the Himalayan peak of Nanda Devi, to spy into China where Defense Intelligence learned that nuclear missile testing was underway.
“Broughton Coburn has written a book to renew our faith in what it means to believe in each other, and in ourselves. This is what it looked like when ordinary men of extraordinary courage and self-discipline worked through tragedy, dissent, and hardship not for individual glory but toward a common goal. When were we last this self-effacing, this optimistic, this outrageously can-do? A compulsively entertaining read.” Alexandra Fuller, author of Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
“Gripping....Not just another book about mountain climbing, this is also a story of America in the early 1960s.” Booklist
“A sweeping account of the first American visitors to Mount Everest’s peak....Coburn’s unhurried, character-driven narrative pays scrupulous attention to the climb’s every detail and to Everest’s majestic natural history....An exhilarating slice of American adventure-sporting history.” Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Broughton Coburn is the author or editor of seven books, including two national bestsellers, Everest: Mountain Without Mercy and Touching My Father's Soul: A Sherpa's Journey to The Top of Everest (Collaboration with Jamling Tenzing Norgay). He has worked in environmental conservation and development in the Himalaya of Nepal, Tibet, and India for the past 25 years. He lives in Wilson, Wyoming with his wife and two children.
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