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Geoscientist Online

Mountain - Nature and Culture

fxtjThis book, a volume in the Earth Series commenced in 2012 by Reaktion Books, takes a fascinating look at natural phenomena from some rather interesting angles.  These are not textbooks as such on floods, waterfalls, deserts, earthquakes, volcanoes and more besides, but beautifully produced volumes, copiously illustrated and crammed full of the most interesting and thought-provoking facts and observations.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the volume Caves - Nature and Culture, I greatly looked forward to opening and immersing myself in a companion volume about mountains.  Like many geoscientists and physical geographers I came into geology through an interest in the great outdoors as a walker and climber, and experienced wilderness country and its physical and spiritual impact early on in my career. 

We should all then know exactly what a mountain is, shouldn’t we? Well, all is not what it seems in the definition department and the contradictions and perceptions plunge us right into the subject from the first page.  What follows, according to the author, is a book presenting mountains in the light of “…the holy and the diabolical, life and death, vision and time, science, technology and heritage”.

Given the breadth of the subject matter, the diversity of the themes and the very wide factual spread that the author draws on, you might be forgiven for thinking the subject is far too vast to cram into 264 pages.  But you would be wrong, for the author has produced a fascinating exploration of the impact of those, often colossal, crustal features we call mountains. 

Both real and imaginary, they have influenced human emotions, religious beliefs, scientific investigations and cultural responses; challenged human imagination and physical endurance and stimulated significant geological endeavour.  Here is a wonderful collage of facts and stories, skilfully and cleverly structured, appropriately and beautifully illustrated.

Nearly all of the magnificent mountains I have ever read about, seen or had the pleasure of climbing, appear to be mentioned in this book.  The text wanders over mountain ranges and peaks across the globe, drawing in cultural, religious, cartographic, artistic, scenic, biographic and much historic and geographic data.  It weaves a tapestry of anecdotal information, myths, linguistic detail, personal observations and scientific facts, and includes 137 illustrations, many of which are in colour.  Be prepared to learn much more about mountains that you never knew before, from a book that is a very well illustrated ‘cracking good read’.

Reviewed by Chris Carlon

MOUNTAIN: NATURE AND CULTURE by Veronica della Dora, 2016.  Published by:  Reaktion Books Ltd.  264pp ISBN: 978 1 78023 647 6 List Price: £14.95 W: www.reaktionbooks.co.uk