The Maverick Mountaineer: The remarkable life of George Ingle Finch: Climber, scientist, inventor
by Robert Wainwright
A fascinating book about a fascinating man.
I like biographies, and always come away with something new. In this case, I’d never heard of George Ingle Finch, but what a chasm in my education that was. Finch was a truly remarkable man who contributed much to what we have and know today; not least the study of how fires spread through buildings.
The author takes us through Finch’s life having painstakingly researched it. Make no mistake, Finch wasn’t perfect, he had his foibles and prejudices as we all do, and to the author’s credit he does nothing to hide these imperfections. The backbone of the book is Finch’s involvement in the conquering of Everest. Although a climber himself, he never got to the peak, but neither would Hillary without Finch’s realisation that oxygen would be needed.
And it’s about using oxygen to climb that the book makes one of its many interesting diversions. As well as Finch’s life, we get to see so many other things of the UK in days of yore. Strikingly, the establishment closes ranks and deliberately excludes Finch from the third and subsequent Everest attempts, despite him climbing the highest on the second assault. What we see is that the establishment (the Alpine Club, the Everest Committee, etc.) closing ranks against Finch because he’s not one of them and he doesn’t play their way. They think it un-gentlemanly to take oxygen with them on climbs and once Finch has nailed his colours to the mast over oxygen, they use every ruse and dirty trick going to exclude one of the best climbers in the country. It is arguably the arrogance, ignorance and pomposity of this old boy network that is largely responsible for the deaths of several climbers until Everest is finally conquered.
The book reads like a boy’s own adventure: it captures the pioneering spirit of the interwar years. – The days of achievement: but it isn’t done through rose tinted spectacles. The gritty realism is there, the excitement, the disappointments and most importantly, the ‘can do’ attitude.
The book is truly enthralling. My only gripe is that not being a climber I was constantly referring to Google in order to seek explanations of some of the expressions used.
Having read the Amazon UK reviews (3 at the time of writing) I have to say that I am surprised at the two negative ones.
Four anchors from me, a read well worth your time, especially if you have a decent cognac to hand.