The Moth and the Mountain
‘One of the best books ever written about the early attempts to conquer Everest. A fine, fine slice of history by a truly special writer who proves time and time again that he is among the best of his generation’ Dan Jones, author of The Plantagenets
‘A small classic of the biographer’s art’ Sunday Times
The untold story of Britain’s most mysterious mountaineering legend – Maurice Wilson – and his heroic attempt to climb Everest. Alone.
In the 1930s, as official government expeditions set their sights on conquering Everest, a little-known World War I veteran named Maurice Wilson conceived his own crazy, beautiful plan: he would fly a Gipsy Moth aeroplane from England to Everest, crash land on its lower slopes, then become the first person to reach its summit – all utterly alone. Wilson didn’t know how to climb. He barely knew how to fly. But he had pluck, daring and a vision – he wanted to be the first man to stand on top of the world.
Maurice Wilson is a man written out of the history books – dismissed as an eccentric and a charlatan by many, but held in the highest regard by world class mountaineers such as Reinhold Messner. The Moth and the Mountain restores him to his rightful place in the annals of Everest and in doing so attempts to answer that perennial question – why do we climb mountains?
‘A towering, tragic tale rescued from oblivion by Ed Caesar’s magnificent writing’ Dan Snow
‘This bonkers ripping yarn of derring-don’t is a hell of a ride’ The Times
‘It’s hard to imagine a finer tribute to one of Everest’s forgotten heroes’ Elizabeth Day
'Ed Caesar has written a slim, ravishing chronicle that is absolutely bursting with life - doomed romance, the dread of the battlefield, the lure of adventure, hair-raising tales of amateur aviation, and, above all, the beauty and madness of the quest to ascend Earth's tallest summit. Maurice Wilson is as rich and full of surprise and contradiction as a character in a novel, and through painstaking historical research, Caesar brings his hero back to vivid life in all his messy, inspiring, ultimately tragic glory. A major feat of reporting and elegant storytelling' -- Patrick Radden Keefe, author of the Orwell Prize-winning Say Nothing 'The Moth and the Mountain is gripping and exquisite. A mad, magnificent, and moving tale' -- Philippe Sands, author of East West Street 'Maurice Wilson was an amazing human being. Passionate, heroic, hilariously deluded, inspired, brave to the point of lunacy, determined, war damaged, lovelorn and gloriously unhinged. The Moth and the Mountain is a wonderful, elegiac account of an extraordinary life written with a wry, compassionate humour. It is clear that Ed Caesar loves his hero. I think I do too' -- Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void 'This bonkers ripping yarn of derring-don't is a hell of a ride ... scrupulously researched ... Maurice Wilson was a one-off, quite outside the ordinary run of people, and The Moth and the Mountain is a "sorry, beautiful, melancholy, crazy" tribute to a man who, like a leaf in autumn, burnt brightest just before he fell' -- John Self * The Times * 'An urgent and humane story that invites not mockery of a madman, but pity and admiration. A small classic of the biographer's art' -- James McConnachie * The Sunday Times * 'Caesar is a journalist with a novelist's eye for character ... Wilson's story is bonkers, but also beautiful. The profile Caesar builds is compelling, colourful and warm - of a complex, contradictory man with admirable self-belief and a healthy disregard for class boundaries and national borders' (Book of the Week) -- Sam Wollaston * Guardian * 'A riveting tale of trauma, spiritual awakening and postwar derring-do ... a gem of a book ... meticulously researched' (Book of the Week) * Observer * 'An outstanding book . . . The Moth and the Mountain returns readers to a romantic era when Everest was terra nova rather than an experience to be bought . . . the author, a contributing writer for the New Yorker, is a talented storyteller with a flair for detail. . . Wilson's story is an entry less in the annals of mountaineering than in the Book of Life. That such an extraordinary person even existed is cause for celebration' * Wall Street Journal * 'A wonderful adventure story, beautifully told. Based on years of painstaking archival research, Ed Caesar's The Moth and the Mountain brings us a modern-day myth with a beguiling, impossible hero from a vanished era of empire, one man on an epic quest that is by turns gripping and heartbreaking' -- Adam Higginbotham, author of Midnight in Chernobyl 'The Moth and the Mountain is a gripping story of heroism, adventure, madness and thwarted love, told with extraordinary empathy and intelligence. Ed Caesar is a writer of rare style and depth, and he has written a great and moving work of non-fiction' -- Mark O'Connell, Wellcome Book Prize-winning author of To Be a Machine and Notes from an Apocalypse 'In the 1930s, an Englishman, Maurice Wilson - a traumatized veteran of the Great War - decided he would fly to Mount Everest, crash-land on the slopes and climb to the summit alone. (Never mind that he was a novice pilot and had never climbed a mountain.) It's not a spoiler to say that things didn't go well, but Caesar puts the man, and his quest, in historical context' -- New York Times, 'New Books to Watch Out For' 'An engrossing biography ... credit to Caesar for rescuing such a splendid tale of an engaging maverick from the footnotes of Everest history. * Spectator * 'Praise is due to Ed Caesar for managing to tell this tale so well, because the sheer madness of Wilson's life would surely have thrown off all but the most sure-footed biographer. Caesar sets about it with fantastic energy and makes use of a marvellous collage of letters, diary entries, poetry, telegrams, interviews and archival iced gems. He is to be applauded for giving romantic, adamantine, lion-hearted Maurice Wilson his overdue day in the sun' -- Dan Richards * Literary Review * 'Why climb the world's highest mountain? For King and Country; for the glory of God; because it is there. Or, as for Maurice Wilson, because of an unhappy love affair, a wartime trauma, and a longing to get away from a life whose values are measured at the cash register. In Ed Caesar's telling, the hapless, defiant Wilson becomes an unexpected hero - an unforgettable inspiration for anyone who chafes at the limits of ordinary life' -- Benjamin Moser. Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sontag 'Gripping at every turn ... it's impossible not to root for Wilson' * Outside * 'Engagingly depicts Wilson and his times in ebullient and well-written prose ... a widely appealing and affecting character study, microhistory, story of love and loss, and inquiry into some surprising effects of trauma and personal tragedy' * Booklist * 'Riveting... Caesar's biographical tale of Wilson rightly restores a footnoted figure of alpine history to the storied peaks of Mount Everest, where his body lays still today' * InsideHook *
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