The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Books

Our Favorite Things: The Second Half of 'Buried in the Sky'

If you forgive the sluggish first hundred pages, which veer into everything from Buddhist mythology to Nepal’s civil war, Buried in the Sky (W.W. Norton, $27), published last June, is easily the most riveting and important mountaineering book of the past decade.

Its topic—the August 2008 disaster on K2 that killed 11 climbers—has already inspired five books and three films, none of which, we now know, come close to reporting the whole story. Cousins and co-authors Peter Zuckerman, a former newspaperman for the Oregonian, and Amanda Padoan, an ExplorersWeb blogger, take the point of view of Nepalese Sherpas Chhiring Dorje and Pasang Lama and Pakistani high-altitude porter Shaheen Baig for most of the book. But it’s not their perspective so much as their exhaustive reporting and elegant delivery that gives the book its rich texture.

While Western climbers such as “irritable Dutchman” Wilco van Rooijen and American publicity hound Nick Rice squabble “like tweens,” and members of the ill-fated Korean Flying Jump expedition shamble off the summit “like lushes leaving a bar—reveling, swearing, and puking on their boots,” the Sherpas and Pakistanis operate in a parallel world that exists on every expedition-style Himalayan climb but usually goes unseen, even by the mountaineers in camp. Unlike so many climbing yarns, the hired help in Buried in the Sky come off as real and sometimes abused people with aspirations and loved ones anxiously awaiting them at home.

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A Quick Synopsis of Jared Diamond's Newest Treatise on Humanity

Jared Diamond’s classic Guns, Germs and Steel, about why some societies and not others gained wealth and power, is a book that many thinking Americans display but fewer have actually read. That often leads to erroneous-allusion syndrome—the justification of half-baked theories with the phrase “...as Diamond pointed out in Guns, Germs and Steel.” Just ask Mitt Romney, who bungled a Diamond talking point about natural resources back in July and earned a rebuke from the author. To save you similar embarrassment, Bruce Barcott synopsizes key lessons from Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, which identifies old-time practices that can still benefit us.

WE SHOULD: Exercise, eat slowly, talk with friends—these features of tribal life kept people healthy and happy.

WE SHOULDN’T: Romanticize tribal culture, which wasn’t always groovy. Ritual widow strangling, once practiced by the Kaulong of New Guinea, did not, thankfully, survive the tribe’s transition to modernity.

WE SHOULD: Raise multilingual children. This “brings long-term benefits to their thinking, as well as enriching their lives.”

WE SHOULDN’T: Enforce mandatory retirement. In oral cultures, older people are “society’s encyclopedias and libraries.” They remember things like where to find food when times get tough. Or why we passed the Glass-Steagall Act in the first place.

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Sam Sheridan's Guide to the Apocalypse

Sam Sheridan made his name with A Fighter’s Heart, a bestselling account of his experience training for mixed martial arts. Now the former Merchant Marine takes on Armageddon in The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse. Published just two months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, Diaries is a curious handbook for armchair end-timers, complete with tips and genre-fiction vignettes. Jon Billman talked survival with Sheridan.

Your book is fun—there are zombie anecdotes, after all. But this is serious stuff, as we’ve recently seen.
Watching the hurricane descend on the East Coast, I just kept thinking about the basic message of the book: self-reliance. If everyone is a little more able to take care of themselves, then a week without power becomes a little less of a crisis. I’m not talking about being able to live off the land forever, or a well-armed bunker. Just have enough food and water to sustain your family for a couple of weeks. The Big One in Los Angeles, a crippling ice storm in North Dakota—there are dozens of scenarios where the grid might go down. Taking responsibility for your survival is part of the onus of adulthood. Understand the vulnerabilities in the systems you depend on. And have a couple of plans.

You suggest that situational awareness is paramount. Are you advocating a slow-food approach to disaster?
Yeah, absolutely. You have to move on a much slower plane. Being deliberate is useful in any survival situation—the worst thing you can do is rush and make more victims.

At one point, you argue with a wilderness guide about Scorpions—not the bug, the band. Is “Winds of Change” the theme song to the apocalypse?
No, that’s a pussy rocker ballad. Maybe it’s a punk song. Something hard and blinding.

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Lance Armstrong Sued Over His 'Nonfiction' Book

Here are all 59 pages of the class-action lawsuit filed against Lance Armstrong in Sacramento, California, this week, which alleges that both It’s Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts are fiction rather than nonfiction. (Hard to argue with at this point, but that doesn’t mean this suit will end up being successful.) The claim, which is similar to an action filed against Greg Mortenson over fabrications in Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, claims that purchasers of the books were “misled by Defendants’ statements and purchased Defendant Armstrong’s books based upon the false belief that they were true and honest works of nonfiction.” The complaint says Armstrong attributed his success in the Tour de France to training, diet, and guts, when in fact he was cheating all along.

The plaintiffs are a pair of bike enthusiasts and (former) Lance believers named Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler. According to the Sacramento Bee blog “CapitolAlert,” Stutzman is a well-connected GOP strategist who worked as the communications director for Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger during his first term. Wheeler is a chef. Both feel had by Lance and the myth he perpetuated about himself.

“Although Stutzman does not buy or read many books,” the complaint says, “he found Armstrong’s book incredibly compelling and recommended the book to several friends.” Stutzman met Armstrong in 2005, during his Arnold gig. “At that time, Stutzman thanked Defendant Armstrong for writing his book and told him it was very inspiring and that he had recommended it to friends who were fighting cancer. Armstrong thanked Stutzman.” Truly the act of what Lance has called (when referring to journalists) “a snake with arms.”

There is a certain TMI quality to this brief, aimed at heightening the plaintiffs’ sense of betrayal. Wheeler lets us know that he “began riding bikes in his hometown of Cupertino, California, while in kindergarten and began riding long distances with his best friend. Soon he and his friend would ride over the mountains to Santa Cruz and back. Wheeler began hanging out at the renowned Cupertino Bike Shop where he became friendly with its owner, the legendary Spence Wolfe.”

OBJECTION, your honor: plaintiff should use this heartwarming material in his screenplay for Breaking Away: Again.

The full text of the complaint is below. And here’s my story about a similar complaint filed against Greg Mortenson over the lies in his work. (That suit was bounced by a federal district judge, and is currently under appeal.) The co-defendants in the Armstrong suit are all publishing companies. Lance’s co-author, Sally Jenkins, is not named.

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Falcon's Interactive Guides to Hiking, Climbing, and Cooking

FalconGuides just announced the first 12 titles in a new line of interactive outdoor guides the company developed in partnership with Inkling, a platform for interactive learning.

For the price of the download, readers get expert content optimized for iPhone, iPad, and Web, with features that bridge the gap between apps and ebooks: slideshows with high-res images not found in the print editions, guided visual tours, hyperlinks, and smart search that makes it quick and easy to get to the information you need, from a list of dog-friendly hikes to a river name. Hiking guide users can give tips to other readers and share trail notes on washed out bridges, best photo ops, bees nests to watch out for, or anything else. An animal tracks feature lets you click through a series of questions that narrows down which animal tracks you’ve spotted based on pattern, shape, and size. Rock climbing instructional guides have stop-motion animation illustrating specific techniques.

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