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The Burgess Book of Lies

by Adrian and Alan Burgess


Cloudcap, Seattle. 1994. 463 pages
Paperback edition: The Mountaineers, 1998, 463 pages

“The Burgess twins, known to all as Aid and Al became renegades shortly after their joint entrance into the cruel world. During the mid-1960s these tall Yorkshire lads cut school to go climbing, stole books from libraries, and, a few years later in France, crowed when friends snatched expensive pastries from a "big, fat lady [who] was not very mobile and a little slow." "Harmless" little pranks such as stealing emergency food from lifeboats, placing boulders on railroad  tracks, and stealing an Alfa-Romeo for a 200-mile  trip through Piemonte made the twins lust for higher goals. So they broke into a winterized Alpine hut and swilled so many bottles of stolen Bordeaux that the next morning, a perfect day for climbing, they nursed hideous hangovers. (…)
Luckily for the reader, the twins grow up and foist their aggressions onto objects, not people—the objects in this case being rock and ice. (…)
If you are able to plow through these predictable early years, forgive lifeless and confusing prose, and ignore typographical errors beyond count (almost every foreign word is misspelled), then you're in for a treat, for the last one-third of the book improves dramatically.
As we join the brothers' struggles on K2, Everest, and other behemoths, their prose becomes well-written and believable, as if a ghostwriter had stepped in. No more pranks, no more joking: the twerps finally evolve into human beings. The Burgesses’ thoughts on Sherpa culture, death in the mountains, and motives for climbing are presented thoughtfully and honestly; one actively begins to hate the book's title and the early chapters. (…)
A few quibbles: this book not only needed a proofreader, but a competent copyeditor. Inconsistencies abound: a snow cave "was very comfortable for three people" but, on the same page, when three men spend the night there, "I was too crushed to be comfortable." Redundancies annoy: twice within seventeen pages, in virtually identical language, we learn that Monday mornings were bad-hands days. These intrusions into our ultra-recent memories disturb the flow of the narrative. (…)
Overall, this is a lightweight autobiography, full of lazy writing and fuzzy gray photographs (plus a few good color ones). It is far too long; I suspect that the brothers wished to dwell on their "bad-boy" image as long as possible—this is what they are notorious for, not their climbing. Had the twins, well-meaning fellows who obviously love the heights, omitted the relatively minor adventures of their youth, taken a few writing lessons along the way, and found a publisher who would agree to spring for a skilled copyeditor—then this could have been a real winner.”
Steve Roper, “American Alpine Journal” 1995, p. 346-348

“Adrian (Aid) and Alan (Al) Burgess, are identical-twin British mountaineers who have been the stuff of on- and off-the-rock legends for decades. But, as Aid pointed out during his well-received book reading at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, many of the bawdy twins' legendary exploits never happened — at least not to them, or at least as far as their oxygen-starved, booze-addled brains could recall. (…)
The Burgess Book of Lies is the twins' effort to set the record straight — or rather put the proper spin on it. As the old Sherpa saying on the title sheet advises: "Maybe true. Maybe not true. Better you believe." (…)
The twins have been climbing for over 30 years, and they give the reader a rare sense of evolution in various climbing scenes. They're as at home in the pubs in Britain, Snell's Field in Chamonix, and the villages along their Himalayan approaches, as they are up on the side of a mountain. One of the strengths of The Book of Lies is the portrayal of the scenes the twins drift in and out of. They seem up to most any challenge except that presented by Denver high society — Aid married into a wealthy Colorado family and his encounters with fox hunts and debutante balls are hilarious. (…)
Many times I found myself nodding in agreement with some simple truism the Burgess boys captured in a line or two: "It's only natural that one creates one's own reality, based on past experience and present desires," or, "It takes more than a wee storm to finish me off ... Besides, all those lads in the campsite would be trying to steal my girlfriend." These guys, for all their fooling around, have thought a lot about life.
I was prepared to write a glowing review of this 463-page book — it's one of the better I've read recently — until I read the epilogue, which consists of faxed dispatches from K2. Within a few pages I wanted to hurl.
The gratuitous sponsor-stroking so thankfully minimized in the rest of the book is laid on thick at the end: "The Reebok boots were all great. So much use over such rough terrain. What a test!" What a test of the readers patience making them wade through this drivel. All the philosophical discussions praising small, low-budget expeditions are compromised, and the twins come off looking like hypocrites. Tear out these pages and burn them before you lay eyes on them — they ruin an otherwise great book.”
John Sherman, “Climbing” 1995, No. 152, p. 159

“Telling stories to friends around campfires, in bars or in a crowded basecamp tent has never been difficult for either of us. We revel in the act of entertainment. ... We especially thank those who held regular jobs so that civilization, as we know it, didn't fall apart while we went climbing."
So begins The Burgess Book of lies, a recounting of the many adventures of the burly Burgess Twins during the past 35 years of alpinism, expeditions and mischief. This compendium is really a very candid, though occasionally censored, history — frequently outrageous, but not fanciful like much of John Long's non-fiction. (…)
For several enjoyable armchair sessions, read The Book of Lies. I trust you'll agree that a more accurate title would be The Burgess Book of Laughs.”
George Bracksieck, „Rock & Ice” 1996,  No 67, p. 129-130

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