Adventures in nonfiction

Here are my reviews of two recent reads which I found quite exhilarating for totally different reasons.

book reviews, campaigning, Game Change, good reads, K2, mountaineering, mountaineer Ed Viesturs, politics

Really it’s a cliffhanger
In his most recent book, K2: Life & Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, American mountaineer Ed Viesturs focuses on the six most dramatic seasons in K2 history. K2 – located in the Karakoram Range spanning the borders of Pakistan, India and China – is the second highest mountain in the world. In K2, Viesturs blends his decades of high-altitude experience with the retelling of each of six summit attempts.

As a climber, Viesters maintained absolute turn-back limits. After his first dangerous attempt on K2, survival trumped everything in all his future climbs. His strict personal code: Trust your instincts and follow them. His code looms as a large benchmark within each of the six expeditions.

K2 is a great read. Viesturs had my heart pounding at sea level as he described the experience of  expedition teams functioning, or trying to, in perilous conditions at altitudes well above 20,000 feet. Imagine bivouacking at 27,000 feet!

Viesturs, along with writer David Roberts, does a great job analyzing the makeup of each team, their interpersonal dynamics, their choices at high-altitude, their summit attempts and outcomes, and their post-climbing life (those who survived). He effectively creates a taut, stomach-knotting, breath-sapping suspense yarn.

The outcomes of these climbs are well documented. Yet with meticulous detail and research, combined with personal experience, Viesturs makes K2 a roller-coaster read all the way.

The political dish
Surprise, surprise. This is not at all what I expected about a book on the road to the presidency. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime is a vivid, funny, detailed, visceral account of the 2008 campaign.

First things first. Written with no bibliography by New York Magazine’s John Heilemann and Time’s Mark Halperin – the lines of truth and exaggeration feel slightly blurred. Yet Heilelmann emphasizes “we did over 300 interviews for the book. More than 200 people. All the interviews we conducted were on deep background. We did no off-the-record interviews…” That “No sources were burned in the making of this book” is the disclaimer.

If Game Change sounds a little gossipy – it reads like a Jackie Collins novel for the Beltway set: sex, treachery, betrayal, scandal and double-dealing – can it be truthful as well?

Stripped of its profanity and a few caricature-drawn players (Rudy Guiliani gets skewered, but it’s so dead on, one can’t help but laugh), John Heilemann and Mark Halperin take us into depths unknown with all the candidates and provide a solid basis, and a fascinating look into the many facets of the 2008 campaigns, and the personalities that drove them.

Revealing relationships between Obama and Clinton, Edwards and Obama, Edwards and Edwards, Cindy and John, Bill Clinton and George Bush, and on and on, get interwoven into the larger campaign picture. Who knew Hilary didn’t like confrontation? How did Obama almost lose sight of the finish line?

One of my favorite passages details the first Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting for then Junior Senator Barack Obama with Senator Biden speaking. After a lengthy session and alluding to Mr Biden’s verbosity, Mr Obama scribbled a simple note to his aide “Shoot. Me. Now.”

What’s not to like?

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