Conversations with Climbers
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Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers

By Nicholas O'Connell
Foreword by Greg Child

The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1993. 300 pages.

Beyond Risk is a collection of seventeen interviews conducted by Nicholas O'Connell with "the world's most innovative and accomplished climbers." (…)
Many of these climbers are writers themselves, well over half with books to their credit (Messner and Bonington being virtual publishing industries unto themselves). But even these familiar faces benefit from O'Connell's careful questioning and editing. I've read numerous books by Bonington and even spoken briefly with him, but O'Connell manages to get out of him what he rarely achieves in his own prose. Throughout this book these people are able to say the things that might be seen as unbecoming or self-aggrandizing in another context. (…)
It is the obligation, I think of any good book about climbing, to address either explicitly or implicitly the issue of why we climb. We are invariably disappointed when the issue is ignored. O'Connell recognizes this and he attempts to draw from these climbers their innermost motivations. In their responses, however, we hear a little too often the circular "life is climbing, climbing is life" rationale. Kurt Diemberger even says that it's impossible to answer the question of why one climbs. (…)
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its historical continuity. Cesen cites Bonatti, Buhl, and Cassin as strong influences; Croft cites Bonington as an early hero and Bonatti above all others; Jean-Claude Droyer the father of modern free climbing in France, also cites Bonatti. Bonatti himself cites Cassin as an influence but also expresses admiration for those who followed him, Messner and Scott. Likewise, Robbins notes that Croft, in addition to his mastery of climbing has "a character that is head and shoulders above a lot of petulance and nay-saying and faultfinding that even I'm involved in."
O'Connell does a superb job of introducing each climber in a two or three page bio and his introduction to the book as a whole provides a concise and accurate history of modern climbing.”
David Stevenson, “American Alpine Journal” 1994, p. 286-288


“The two questions I found myself asking were, first, for whom is the book meant? It's too specialised for a general audience, yet constantly tries to explain the usual sorts of questions put by non-climbers, but if it is for a specialist audience all those featured have been interviewed ad nauseam and their views are pretty well-known to most aficionados. Consequently I found the more interesting interviews were with those who by chance, I was least familiar — in my case, Jean-Claude Droyer, Peter Croft and, particularly, Voytek Kurtyka, who, even though I have met him and heard him lecture, did emerge as a man of very positive opinions.

The second question was, why were the questions so easy, even banal? To ask Tomo Cesen: 'Why is solo climbing more difficult than climbing with a partner?' Or to Warren Harding: 'Did it bother you to be up on those rock walls?' is the sort of questioning that you would find pretty embarrassing on Blue Peter and to ask Kurt Diemberger: 'Why are Himalayan Peaks so dangerous?' beggars belief. (…)
I found myself wishing that the book had been more integrated and that the author had juxtaposed different views and generally taken control of what he had discovered.”
Jim Curran, „High” 1994, February, No. 135, p. 92


“If you're looking for easy reading on world-famous climbers, Nicholas O'Connell's Beyond Risk: Conversations With Climbers is for you. Bur if you're hoping for an in-depth personality study on climbers whose history you are already familiar with, save your money for the biographies. (…)
Beyond Risk is diluted, but still enjoyable, especially if you're not familiar with those interviewed. The 17 chapters don't depend on each other, and you can read a chapter here and there, skipping the trite questions, without losing any flow. To put it simply, Beyond Risk is perfect bathroom reading material.”
Lisa Morgan, “Climbing” December 1993/January 1994, No. 141, p. 163-164

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