Review by: John Lloyd
Publisher: Penguin   3rd June 2021
ISBN:  978-0241977255   PB
It ought to be admitted some books are admirable for the writing, while others are remarkable due to their subject alone.  This, happily, is the combination of both.  It soberly addresses the whole saga of a Bradford lad, wounded in World War One (yet not wounded enough to get a pension), and a bit of a playboy, who decides out of nowhere to fly a plane to the bottom of Mount Everest, and waltz up it solo, becoming the first to the top of the world.  This at a time when he could neither mountaineer nor fly – and he only learnt one of the two key skills before setting out.
This then becomes a look at one of those most determined of British explorer/adventurers, one long forgotten by the standard narrative of Everest, trying his best to do what had killed many others before him, but with even more absurd pluck, death-defying grit and naive endeavour than ever.  Maurice Wilson either stands as a pinnacle of self-determination, or as an exemplar of idiotic stubbornness – but either way this forensic look at his travels and what led to them always has him as great company.
What might divide the audience of this is the amount of context – the wartime heroism, the nature of Bradford life, the family context and his broken marriages.  There is a case to say perhaps the story was a touch too slight for such a book and this background material was necessary to flesh everything out.  But it has to be said all this research is worn very lightly, and the eye for detail our guide has takes us most compellingly through the relevant years, right through to the most hubristic conclusions.  To repeat, you can relish learning about Wilson, and how we do so, in a most page-turning non-fiction read.