Literature: Harlin III’s Eiger Obsession

“Dad used to say, ‘Death is a part of it all.’ I say it’s the ugly part. But it’s why I’m here, why Eiger climbers come.” -John Harlin III, in The Eiger Obsession (2007)

Out ExploringJust a few comments here today about a recent mountain/adventure/outdoors buzz book: John Harlin III’s The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father. Knowing that I do enjoy reading books on these topics—whether they’re classics or new releases—my mother bought the book in advance of my return to the U.S. last week and gave it to me as a gift when I arrived. Reading a book about the mountains just makes me want to return to the Alps—and thankfully, Harlin III’s book transported me on a little literary journey to these places that I love.

In The Eiger Obsession, John Harlin III tells the story of his father’s obsession with climbing a new route—the direttissima—on the north face of the Eiger, a 13,025-foot mountain located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Harlin III is nine years old when his father dies on the mountain, and he struggles as an adult to confront his own passions for climbing. The book is a history as much as it is a personal narrative, and Harlin III’s explorations of larger issues such as climbing’s risks and the activity’s often-tragic consequences are well done. Only a few moments in the book seem overly sentimental, which is a credit, I think, to this author’s skill in rendering a story that moves beyond its subjects when they could easily become too sappy.

After reading the book, I’d have to say that it’s a good pick if you’re already interested in mountain/adventure/outdoors books. I couldn’t help but wonder if it were the type of book my mom would buy and read for herself. Um—I doubt it. I don’t think that the book has universal or near-universal appeal, but it is a must-read for anyone keeping current in the mountain literature category.


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