Edmund Hillary - A Biography: The Extraordinary Life Of The Beekeeper Who Climbed Everest (Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: PS15.84, saving PS8.16 on rrp) June 2019 marks the centenary of Sir Edmund Hillary's birth in New Zealand. While his life story is already well known to millions of people, Michael Gill's comprehensive biography will hopefully introduce a younger audience to an individual whose feat made him one of the world's most famous men.
Born and raised in Auckland, Hillary joined the New Zealand Air Force and served in World War II, although he discovered his true metier when climbing mountains across his native land and beyond. By the time he was 32, he had conquered 11 Himalayan peaks of over 20,000 feet, an 'apprenticeship' which prepared him for the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest.
At least seven earlier attempts had failed to reach Everest's summit, but during two reconnaissance expeditions in 1951 and 1952, Hillary's combination of meticulous preparation, bravery and climbing skill brought him to the attention of Sir John Hunt, leader of an expedition planning to make an assault on Everest in 1953.
This expedition would eventually reach Everest's South Peak before exhaustion and altitude forced all but two of the climbers to turn back; only Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a native Nepalese climber, were strong enough to make the final assault. On 29 May, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Norgay reached the summit, 29,028 feet above sea level, the highest point on Earth.
For years afterwards, Hillary and Norgay were feted and showered with awards everywhere they went; fortunately, the author, a close friend of Hilary, expands upon his post-Everest life, which combined exploration, philanthropy and tragedy.
Knighted following his conquest of Everest, Hillary turned to exploration, leading the New Zealand Trans-Antarctic expedition between 1955 and 1958 and participating in the first mechanised expedition to the South Pole. In the 1960s, he returned to Nepal assisting with the construction of clinics, hospitals and schools. Yet Hillary's life was littered with tragedy; he lost both his youngest daughter and his wife in a plane crash in 1975, which plunged him into depression, a mood from which he escaped by involving himself in an even greater volume of philanthropic work.
Gill was granted access to an extensive archive of unpublished private papers and photographs. It shows that Hillary wasn't just an exceptional climber and adventurer, but a family man and a man with a deep affection for the Nepalese people. His story deserves a younger audience; they will not read a better version than this.
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