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Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold and David Roberts is an interesting look at the adventures of today's preeminent solo rock climber, Alex Honnold. But it will probably only have a limited appeal to non climbers. It is certainly not a memoir. There is not a whole lot of personal details about Alex's life outside of climbing. In fact there is not even much about the climbing intervals in between his radical solos and globetrotting expeditions. Nor does it delve very deeply into the psychology of what prompts a man to place himself in such insecure positions. The reason they have nicknamed him 'no big deal' becomes evident early on, as he consistently downplays his exploits.

Since I am a climber, and have done some soloing, albeit at a much more moderate level than Alex, (one which never even approached the limits of the admittedly far, far less than world class difficulty of which I'm capable while roped), I was interested in the stories of his climbs, and found enough to relate to that the book was a compelling read for me. Alex comes off as a relatively humble and very likable guy who frankly doesn't seem to understand why other people don't do the things he does. He is a very driven man who simply seems incapable of doing something with less than total dedication. And he doesn't view what he does as risky because he claims to feel very comfortable on the routes he solos. In fact Alex says that he has cancelled many attempts because things just didn't feel right. But there is no doubt that a significant aspect of the attraction he feels to these adventures is that he is pushing his limits.

But there is a guardedness and even disingenuousness about the writing that made it a somewhat less than satisfying read for me. And the alternating between passages written by Alex and those written by David Roberts didn't live up to the promise of a complete story the idea merited. As a whole the book certainly never approaches the level of a Jon Krakauer book, or Joe Simpson's "Into the Void". Or Maurice Herzog's 'Annapurna'. Or even the arrogant and patronizing writing of Reinhold Messner. But, if you are a rock climbing fanatic such as myself, then it is worth the few hours it takes to read it to vicariously experience climbing at a level that I will never achieve. Although,even for me, it wasn't actually inspirational, since I never aspired to such feats, rock climbing being too intrinsically pointless for me to do things where the margin for error is so small that dying is always a very real possibility. That whole "well he died doing what he loved" thing is patent bs. Because, while I do truly love climbing rocks, I would really hate falling to my death, especially if it was eminently preventable. I love the purity of soloing, but I only do it on very moderate routes with very solid rock.

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Interesting to read your review Dan and your explanation of how you feel about an activity you love. I'm glad you don't feel the need to push it to the limit where it gets life threatening. :)

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