That Untravelled World – Book Review

For my book review I chose to read That Untravelled World by Eric Shipton. Although it is an autobiography written by Shipton, the book starts out with a lengthy seven page foreword written by Katie Ives, providing the reader with a descriptive background of Shipton and his past. The foreword is a great beginning that provides a smooth transition into Shiptons autobiography, as Ives gives an in depth look at who Shipton was as a man, adventurer, and mountaineer. For example, Ives described how “Shipton’s love of simplicity and spontaneity made him part of a small group of non-conformists”, stressing the importance of his character during a time that a series of massive national expeditions were placing the first men atop some of the Himalayan peaks (Ives). What I appreciated most about the foreword, is how Ives gives a brief, but important, description of Shipton’s most memorable moments. This provides a great background of knowledge to lead into the first chapter, when the personal words of Shipton takes over.

Shipton was one of the greatest explores of the twentieth century, whose Everest explorations set the stage for Hillarys successful ascent. Similar to the majority of mountaineers that we have read about, Shiptons passion for the mountains started at a young age. However, Shipton differed with his passion within mountaineering. The mountaineers we have read about this semester have all had their eye on the giants: the eight-thousanders within the Himalayan range. Shipton, on the other hand, had much more appreciation for the more remote and virgin mountain territories, such as those in Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. He was a true adventurer and explorer, meaning he travelled to places where no maps existed. He scaled mountains whose heights were uncalculated, showing a type of modesty and humble attitude. Trophy climbs were not as attractive to Shipton as untravelled places were.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between this book and the others that we have read thus far, is that Shipton digs a little deeper into his earlier days, including his childhood. Much more time is spent at the beginning, providing a more in depth look into his childhood, and how the death of his father drove him and his mother to be constantly on the move, “travelling between England and South India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)” (Shipton Ch 1). The journey’s of his childhood proved to influence his passion for travelling the untravelled places, so a lengthy amount of pages dedicated towards his early years, as well as family members, seems reasonable. Shipton describes his education in detail, and how his inability to read (known as dyslexia), resulted in an immense amount of humiliation and shame. His inability to read thus made him a poor student, and he admits if it weren’t for this, he may have never pursued his love for travelling and for, what he considers, an “un-normal” life of adventuring. If he had been taught to read more readily, Shipton writes, “Most probably I would have abandoned my vague dream world of strange lands for a pleasant if uninspiring reality” (Shipton Ch 1). Like most mountaineers, Shipton found it hard to live a life of routine. He describes his time spent in England as “drab”, and admitted that he “found it hard to settle into a circumscribed life in a London flat; its main features were lessons with a governess and walks in the park” (Shipton Ch 1). He was also a dreamer, and “began to live more and more in a dream world” during these times of boredom and restriction throughout earlier days of school.

Another significant difference is that this book lacks the drama and heroic stories of the previous books. Through humour, sarcasm, and his own wacky stories (from his time during and after the war), Shipton still manages to make the book interesting. Perhaps its because it was a nice change to read the accounts of a humble and modest mountaineer, a sharp contrast from ego driven and self praising climbers such as Herzog. Not much controversy enters this book, except for his reminiscing of the painful and disappointing experience that he encountered while being passed over as a leader of the famous 1953 Mount Everest expedition. Shipton seemed like an ideal candidate, as he was the pioneer of the route that eventually led Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to a successful summit. Acknowledging the disappointment and feeling of being slighted, Shipton still didn’t make a huge fuss. “I had often deplored the exaggerated publicity accorded to Everest expeditions and the consequent distortion of values”, Shipton admits, “yet, when it came to the point, I was far from pleased to withdraw from this disposed limelight; not could I fool myself that it was only the manner of my rejection that I minded” (Shipton). Although Shipton does include a slight sense of hostility, I can only assume, although its a safe bet to say, that some of the previous mountaineers studied wouldn’t have been so gracious when it came to being overlooked for leader of what would come to be the first successful ascent. It’s hard to imagine that Hillary and Tenzing would most likely not have summited if it weren’t for Shipton, when most people have never heard of Shipton, let alone his association with Everest.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a nice change to read a book with humour, and one that didn’t need dramatic stories and tragedy to be interesting. I admire Shipton immensely, for his humble and modest attitude, and passion for exploring untravelled lands rather than conquering famous peaks. His attitude is quite refreshing, and his passion for adventure and mountains remained true and unspoiled, as he didn’t long for the spotlight.

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