The book takes a completely different angle than most of the other books we have read on Mt. Everest. Most books focus on a single story or only on the climb of Mt. Everest. However, The Vast Unknown America's First Ascent of Everest, delves deep into the many different facets that surrounded the 1963 Mt. Everest expedition. The book begins in the Grant Tetons of Wyoming and steadily introduces the main characters of the expedition. This is coupled with an explanation of the early history of the early climbing culture in the United States which at the time was fragmented into a handful of small locals.
The person responsible for putting together America's first successful attempt on Mt. Everest was a person by the name of Norman Dyhrenfurth. The story details the process of putting together the expedition in a way that was really exciting to read while still being incredibly informative. You truly get a glimpse of what it was like to put together a team to launch an expedition with the goal of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest.
One of the really neat things about this book is all the behind the scenes geopolitical information that most Mt. Everest books do not discuss. For example, during the time of the 1963 American expedition, tensions were high due to the conflicts between the United States, China, India, and Nepal. In 1959 China occupied Nepal and the Dalai Lama escaped to Indian and the Sino-Indian War followed shortly there after and concluded shortly before the 1963 American expedition to Mt. Everest. During this time the CIA had begun clandestine efforts in the region to support the Tibet resistance against China. Tensions were so high during this time period that the 1963 expedition almost did not happen due to the Chinese distrust of American climbers due to the false belief they were going to install military equipment on the summit of Mt. Everest.
The Chinese go this false story from two self funded British explorers, John Harrop and Wignall, who volunteered to help the Indian army in 1955 and gather intelligence about Chinese military buildup in western Tibet. The two British explorers were captured by Chinese forces in the mountains and were held for a month by the Chinese. Sadly, they were tortured (The book leaves the impression they were tortured or at least treated harshly) and in the process told the Chinese a false story about the 1953 expedition to Mt. Everest. They told the Chinese that the 1953 expedition to Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay was an elaborate attempt by the CIA to plant high tech surveillance devices on remote Himalayan peaks as a means of locating Chinese military bases to track their activities. This story was believed by the Chinese military and lead to the 1960 Chinese expedition to Mt. Everest to remove the "alleged"military equipment. These are some of the side stories that are intertwined with the overall context of the story about the 1963 American expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest which truly add a unique flavor to this book.
Bottom-line is if you like outdoor adventure books like these, you will not be disappointed. This book is a fun informative read and it details the story of ordinary men and their extraordinary courage and persistence to climb the tallest peak in the world. You will not be disappointed in this book especially given that it is unique when compared to other Mt. Everest books.