Many books have been written about the British Mount Everest expeditions of the 1920s that culminated so mysteriously in the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, last seen "going strong for the top," on June 8, 1924. What more could be added to the story that hasn't been discussed before? Wade Davis takes a different approach in Into the Silence
. He examines the influences of World War I on the expeditions - on the political backdrop in England, India, and Tibet, as well as on the participants themselves. Almost all of the British members of the expeditions served in some manner during the Great War. Davis weaves their war stories into his discussion of the planning and execution of the expeditions. These snapshots of individual war experiences, including many from the "secondary" characters in the Everest drama, combine to give a highly effective, moving, and horrifying picture of the British experience during World War I. Davis's thesis that the Everest expeditions were felt as somehow redemptive for the generation and nation that had lost so much during the war has validity, and perhaps goes a long way in explaining why these men would choose to subject themselves later to such brutal and dangerous conditions to accomplish something with little pragmatic value.
Davis's account of the 1922 and 1924 expeditions, while well-written and engaging, does not add much new information to what has been published elsewhere (though he does expand quite a bit on Wheeler's role in the 1921 reconnaissance expedition). Where this book contributes to the Everest story is in the meticulous research into the backgrounds of some of the lesser known participants in the expeditions and in the compelling discussion of the social, political, and military background for the events. The annotated bibliography at the end, replacing footnotes or endnotes, should not be missed. There are several fascinating details there.
As for the mystery of whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the summit, Davis addresses it in the Epilogue in only a cursory fashion. Much more detailed discussion of the arguments and evidence for and against is available elsewhere (I would recommend The Mystery of Mallory & Irvine and Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine). Into the Silence
is not about their ultimate success or failure, but about the motivations that inspired their attempt.