Saturday, April 28, 2007

5 best first-person man-versus-nature books

James M. Tabor, author of the forthcoming Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Mysterious and Controversial Tragedies, named the five best first-person man-versus-nature books for Opinion Journal.

The only story of the five that is set in the United States:

Minus 148° by Art Davidson (Norton, 1969).

In February 1967, Art Davidson, Ray Genet and Dave Johnston completed the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska, but on descent a monster storm trapped them at 18,500 feet. For six days they survived -- barely -- in a coffin-size ice cave, enduring 150-mph winds and temperatures that reached minus 148 degrees -- hence the title of Davidson's subsequent account. This finely crafted adventure tale runs on adrenaline but also something else: brutal honesty. Given access to all seven expedition members' journals, Davidson revealed that every "men vs. nature" tale has another dimension: men vs. themselves. His story of extreme mountaineering's good, bad and ugly spares no one -- especially himself. At one desperate point he volunteers to descend alone to "send in help." But: "I knew my reasons for a solo descent were flimsily constructed excuses to conceal my desire to save Art Davidson above all else." Before "Minus 148°," mountain tales glowed with heroism and self-sacrifice. Davidson's was the first to show the darker aspects as well.

Read about the other four titles.

--Marshal Zeringue