Book review: How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt
First, a caveat, you are about to read a review of book about “Lady Adventurers,” How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt written by a man, Mick Conefrey, reviewed by a man, me. That said, Conefrey’s book is not just a handbook for the independent, female explorer, but a great look at the history of female explorers.
Unlike say, Eat, Pray, Love which makes me want to stab a fork in my eye every time I see the cover, How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt is not a collection of cliches about female travelers wrapped up in a lame little love story. In fact, How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt is great look at history’s real female adventures, most of whom have been sidelined and ignored by most history books.
How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt does mention a few of the more well-known female travelers — like Isabella Byrd, Freya Stark and Amelia Earhart — but the main focus is on women you’ve probably never heard of, but should have.
Some of the accomplishments by women in Conefrey’s book include being the first to summit Huascaran (the highest point in Peru), the first westerner to visit a Ottoman harem and the first woman to sail across the Atlantic alone.
But beyond notes in record books, the overwhelming portrait of women as adventurers that emerges from Conefrey’s collection of stories is that women seem more deeply engaged with the places they visited than men of the same era. Perhaps that’s a bias born out of what women chose to record of their journeys versus their male counterparts, but it’s there nonetheless. With the exception of Mark Twain, if you really want to learn about what travel was like in the 19th century, read accounts by women.
I enjoyed How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. One part history and one part adventure story, How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt rarely disappoints. Perhaps my favorite line comes from Mary Hall, a 19th century self-styled “World tourist,” who said, “take every precaution and abandon all fear.” You’d be hard pressed to find better travel advice in any era.
How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt will be available March 15, 2011. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon today.