Living Dangerously


Routinely cited as one of the best mountaineering books ever, Lionel Terray’s Conquistadors of the Useless ($21.95,, newly reissued in 2008 (but first printed in 1961), expresses the nearly inexpressible: what motivates mountaineers to pursue this seductive and often dangerous sport. “What we sought was the unbounded and essential joy that boils in the heart and penetrates every fibre of our being when, after long hours skirting the borders of death, we can again hug life to us with all our strength. Nietzsche defined it thus: ‘The secret of knowing the most fertile experiences and the greatest joys in life is to live dangerously,’” Terray writes.

Terray, a preeminent French climber in the post-WWII era, himself lived a dangerous and accomplished life. He took part in the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, the first-ever ascent of an 8,000-meter peak. He also secured a first ascent of Makalu in 1955, Jannu in 1966, as well as numerous other FAs in the Alps, Himalaya, and Americas. His partners included such notables as Maurice Herzog, Gaston Rebuffat, Louis Lachenal, and Jean Couzy. Conquistadors of the Useless traces Terray’s development as a climber, from his early years growing up in Grenoble, France, to Chamonix, where he repeated testpieces like the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses, to the Himalaya, where he became one of France’s most celebrated climbers. Although the timeless memoir sometimes wanders in describing these adventures, it never fails to vividly and poetically detail each endeavor.

—Nick O’Connell (