| GEOGRAPHICAL reviews |
WILD WONDERS OF EUROPE by Peter Cairns et al ABRAMS, HB, £29.99
Even before the title page, there are wonders: Stromboli erupting like a firework (‘this is Europe still in the making’); a Danish red deer stag in bugling mode; Dalmatian pelicans testing their wingspans. Both of those creatures, although now resurgent, have been under threat in recent times, and the underlying message that this volume aims to impart is that when a species is lost, we’re left with ‘a hole in our souls’.
But it isn’t all bad news. From a heartstopping low of 13, the European bison has recovered to the point where it numbers 2,000; the walrus, too, is back from the edge, and is represented here by a photograph that makes it look both wise and alien, with p l a s t i c - s e e m i n g whiskers. (The information that a walrus can eat as many as
8,000 mussels a day does make you nervous for the mussel’s future, however.)
And there are pictures to make the viewer reassess not only what it is to be European, but to be human: the waterfalls of Lake Milanovac in Croatia look like an Eden unoccupied by our species; on the mudflats of the Wadden Sea, oystercatchers, plovers and sandpipers wade in a dawn that has painted the landscape with horizontal pink and black stripes; while the photo of sperm whales vertically at rest is both hauntingly beautiful, and a silent reproach.
ABOVE: Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) on Lake Kerkini in northern Greece. The species is classed as vulnerable by the IUCN; TOP: the migratory European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Hungary
‘Just the beauty alone of wildlife is reason enough for us to save it and support it,’ we’re reminded, and every photograph here validates that argument. MICK HERRON
NO WAY DOWN: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley VIKING, HB, £18.99
For every ten climbers who reach the summit of K2, one dies. The odds seem pretty straightforward, then, but on 1 August 2008, the mountain threw away the form book when the Balcony Serac – the pinnacle of ice above the Bottleneck on the approach to K2’s summit – collapsed, taking with it the anchored ropes that the various expeditions above that point were relying on for their descent. In the havoc that followed, 11 people died.
This is the story of that bleak day, and it’s one to which Graham Bowley, although a journalist, takes a novelistic approach, relaying the climbers’ thought processes and inventing dialogue (his term is ‘re-creating’) based on his impressions of those involved. This is potentially an exploitative technique, but Bowley uses it to good eﬀect, ratcheting up the tension by allowing us to empathise with individuals long before we know who will live and who die.
It’s a story fraught with sudden disappearances – people wander into the darkness and are never seen again – and, as such, goes some way to capturing the extreme risk that’s the natural state of aﬀairs on a mountain, where a single mistake can end a life and a missing rope put paid to an entire team.
‘In piecing together the tragedy, I had expected a clear narrative, but I found myself in some postmodern fractured tale,’ Bowley admits in an afterword. But out of that fractured tale he has spun a thrilling account of misadventure to keep all armchair mountaineers on the edge of their seat. MICK HERRON
68 www.geog raphical.co.uk DECEMBER 2010