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Master of Rock: The Biography of John Gill

by Pat Ament

Boulder: Alpine House Publishing, 1977; 2nd edition - NE, 1992; 3rd edition - 1998, revised and expanded.

Master of Rock, 1st edition“The idea of someone who can climb levels harder than anyone else, which is what I had always heard about Gill, is completely intriguing. So when Master of Rock came out I was delighted and couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately the book was for me no better, and perhaps even worse, than the ten or more other climbing biographies I had read. It is different from many biographies in that it isn't merely a chronological account of a climber's life, with route description followed by route description.  The different format helps, but it doesn't save the book. (…)
Master of Rock, 2nd editionPerhaps the most interesting part of the book is the middle section, in which a number of climbers write about Gill. The best is an amusing anecdote in which Kevin Bein uses Gill's reputation to "sandbag" Steve Wunsch. (…)
The last half of the book is a tape-recorded conversation that Ament has with Gill. In it Gill gives the impression of being very courteous and modest, and also of being very controlled. There seem to be no hesitations or exclamations in the interview. Gill seems to speak always in complete, well-thought-out sentences. (…)
Master of Rock, 3rd editionWe don't find out about any deep relationships. We don't see the source of inspiration in Gill's life. We don't see any crises or any really decisive moments. There also seem to be no great issues to involve the reader. Issues are discussed that relate to bouldering, but they are talked about in such a dry, intellectual way that the reader begins to yawn. (…)
I think John Gill is such a unique and important figure in climbing in the United States that, despite its shortcomings, the book is well worth looking at.”
Ed Ward, „American Alpine Journal”, p. 326-327, (comment to 1st edition - 1977)


“It is not easy to adjust to Ament's romantic approach to the written word when you have been brought up in the one-word-understatement world of British climbing, still in the shadow of Don Whillans.
The book consists of Ament's own impressions of Gill, a collection of other writers' contributions, and lastly an interview between Ament and Gill where often the questions are longer than the answers. (…)
I found the person and subject fascinating and find a new vigour to my own previously small interest in bouldering. It really is interesting to play about at low level and discover your own inadequacies in relative safety.
One thing is certain, the book is bound to have an influence on climbing in Britain.”
Geoff Birtles, “Crags” 1978, May, No. 12, p. 41


“Long out of print since its original publication in 1977, Master of Rock is back. The old version received some pointed criticism, charging that it revealed too much about the author and not enough about the subject. Even so, the book was irresistible, and quickly became all but impossible to find. The new book is different — more comprehensive, and better. If Ament's strength is the brooding, image—dappled essay, he has certainly become a more satisfying biographer in the 15 years since he wrote the original Master of Rock.(…)
In reading Master of Rock, the reader grasps that, for Gill, difficulty has been less a goal than a byproduct of an inner quest. Gill's was a world where difficulty stalked mystical experience, where an eccentric soul walked through forests and moved taughtly across boulders, seeking moments of liberation. Ament conjures the feel of this quieter place, for he himself perceives climbing this way. Here, rhe friendship between subject and biographer bears its richest fruit. Ament succeeds where it most counts: in capturing the essence — gentlemanly, inventive, staggeringly powerful, and refreshingly playful — of John Gill's approach to climbing.
Inevitable criticisms notwithstanding, Master of Rock is an elegant testament to Gill.”
Jeff Achey, “Climbing” 1993, No. 135, p. 161 (comment to second edition – 1992)

 

 
See also
 Climbers
John Gill, b. 1937, USA
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