cover image The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest

Ed Caesar. Avid Reader, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4337-3

Journalist Caesar (Two Hours) delivers an evocative portrait of the life and times of British adventurer Maurice Wilson (1898–1934), who captivated the public’s attention with his doomed attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1934. Despite the best efforts of the British government to stop him, Wilson flew his Gipsy Moth biplane (which he had only recently learned to pilot) from England to India, hired three sherpas, and walked more than 300 miles to the base of the world’s tallest mountain disguised as a Tibetan priest. Drawing on archival records and love letters Wilson wrote to a friend’s wife, Caesar highlights Wilson’s middle-class upbringing and military service in WWI, where his battalion was nearly wiped out in Germany’s spring offensive of 1918. After the war, Wilson burned through relationships, suffered a nervous breakdown, and traveled the world. Back in England, he turned to fasting, Indian mysticism, and the power of positive thinking to recover from depression and prepare for his Everest expedition. Caesar skillfully explores the political, intellectual, and spiritual movements of the era, as well as Wilson’s psychic scars from the war. Though his climb ended in tragedy, Wilson inspired Reinhold Messner to make the first solo ascent of Everest in 1980. This entertaining, well-researched chronicle is a valuable addition to mountaineering history. (Nov.)