Anthropologist Wade Davis is one of my heroes. He's an incredibly talented explorer and explainer of the world's cultural diversity, what he calls the ethnosphere. He's most famous for his 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow, about Haitian voodoo and zombies. But he's written a slew of books about the dangers faced by disappearing cultures, and why their knowledge, insights, and outlook on the world must be protected. Davis's new book is something of a topical jog for him. Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest is a recounting of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's 1924 attempt to reach the top of Mount Everest. Mallory's body was found in 1999. Nobody knows if they reached the summit. National Geographic interviewed Davis, the organization's official explorer-in-residence:
"Wade Davis: “Into the Silence”" (National Geographic)
Wade Davis realized from the start though, that the mountain was only part of the story for the men on these expeditions. Based on their ages and positions in society, he knew that most of them must have fought in World War I. Telling the full arc of their story, from the war to the mountain, is the heart of his new book “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest…"
“After the war there was an incredible impulse to go anywhere but home,” explains Wade. Hemingway and other “Lost Generation” writers embarked on artistic and emotional odysseys in the cafes and clubs of Europe. Mallory and other climbers did things much more concretely.
“It wasn’t they were cavalier or that they courted death, as much as that death had no mystery for them. They’d seen so much of it that death had no hold on them…life mattered less than the moments of being alive,” says Wade.