Today, three quick and dirty reviews. I read these books back-to-back. They reinforce each other, despite their authors being unconnected in any practical sense.
“Things you don't think about when you're climbing. Arno Ilgner has been working and writing about fear, technique and falling in climbing for years. This book is a distillation of some key insights he's had. I imagine this is a book I'll be returning to as I progress in the sport, but for a beginner there were some really useful parts. The key section for me was the one on falling, and on different ways of approaching this reality that confronts everyone, no matter what variety of climbing you're doing.”
I really liked how this book was more geared towards the mental work / challenge of climbing rather than purely the physical side (which many others have covered).
Next, Alex Honnold’s ‘Alone on the Wall’. If you don’t know Honnold, you should check out this video:
I never get tired of watching that. It’s an astounding feat. The book itself is a summary of the first thirty years of his life, mainly focusing on his big-ticket climbing activities:
“Alex Honnold's reputation precedes him. If you don't know who he is, go visit youtube and have your mind blown. This book is obviously not going to do the same thing as his climbing experiences, and it's written in a weird format. He gets a chance to explain himself on a bunch of things, returning continually to this question of risk and reward (that others often challenge him on). I could probably have done without the co-author's contextualisation and extrapolations on top of what Alex himself wrote. Also, the publisher made a really weird choice (at least for the Kindle version) in having all of Alex's sections in italic, which is a little annoying since his words are the core of the book and you have to read them all in italic throughout.
“Those quibbles aside, Alex Honnold is clearly at the top of his game in the climbing world and he has some really interesting rationalisations and thoughts on risk and competence. He tends to downplay everything, so it's hard to judge some statements since he'll just say "that was ok" or "that was easy" when to others it was probably much more difficult etc.
“He also has a really interesting and thought-provoking position on being 'minimal', as well as his commitment to donate 1/3 or so of his earnings to charity and a eco-foundation that he set up.
“Fans of his climbing will find lots to enjoy in this book. Others, perhaps not so much; for you, check out Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination or Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.”
The final book was Yvon Chouinard’s ‘Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman’. Chouinard is the founder of the Patagonia outdoor clothing and equipment company. This was a surprisingly thought-provoking read:
“ An incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking account of the intersection of business practices, sustainable environmental activism and wilderness exploration.
“I hadn’t heard of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, prior to reading this book, though I now see that he’s been recently profiled in the New Yorker and many other places over the years.
“The first third of the book is an autobiographical account of how the company, Patagonia, was started along with some of the key inflection points along the way. Alongside this is a longer attempt to explain the principles and philosophies that guide how the company does its business. This includes everything from design principles (aiming for a quality minimal design over something that is perhaps cheaper but will last less long, for example) to their management philosophy and environmental activism work.
“It is this latter part of the book that gives a lot of food for thought for anyone running a business. More and more is being written on the issues surrounding growth — and I’m probably revealing my ignorance of a huge literature going back decades, if not longer — and Patagonia and the practices and philosophies here offer a challenge of sorts to anyone doing business in the twenty-first century. I will be chewing on the things in this book for a long while.”
It has been days since I finished this book, yet I’m still mulling it over. That’s as good a testament to the power of ideas as any.