The Boys of Everest: Chris Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing’s Greatest Generation. By Clint Willis. Carroll & Graf/Da Capo. $18.
Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings—The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship. By David Pitts. Da Capo. $17.
Re-make/Re-model: Becoming Roxy Music. By Michael Bracewell. Da Capo. $17.95.
Some biographies make little if any attempt to reach out beyond a core group of people who will find the subject matter instantly fascinating. These three are examples – although the best of them, The Boys of Everest, contains enough stirring adventure so it may be attractive to people interested in what sorts of people climbed the world’s highest mountain before it became a tourist destination, why they made the ascent, and what happened to them. The Chris Bonington of the title was the leader of a group of about a dozen poor and (in some cases) middle-class British men who climbed mountains with an intensity bordering on fanaticism beginning in the 1950s, in the wake of Sir Edmund Hilary’s ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953. These men – the book opens with photos of them and a list of some of their climbs and expeditions – were more daring than previous climbers, more willing to take risks and then, if they survived, take greater risks still. Only a few lived through the climbs that the group attempted into the 1980s. Clint Willis, himself a climber as well as a frequent writer about outdoor adventures and other topics, divides his book into sections called “Boys,” “Men,” “Legends” and “Ghosts” as he chronicles Bonington’s climbs, his successes and his failures. Willis never really gets to the heart of why these men left everyday life behind to try, again and again, under more and more difficult circumstances, to ascend the world’s highest peaks –
Jack and Lem, the first book by journalist David Pitts, has a more limited target audience. It is essentially for people who cannot get enough of the life and legend of John F. Kennedy – and perhaps especially for people interested in Kennedy’s sexuality and his tolerance for the sexual orientation of others. The Lem of the title was Kirk LeMoyne Billings, known as Lem to his friends – of whom Jack Kennedy was one, from the time when the two boys attended
The target readership for Re-make/Re-model appears to be people interested not only in the band Roxy Music but also in the intricacies of the evolution of pop music between the Summer of Love and the emergence of punk. Both those people (well, maybe there are a few more than that) will find out in Michael Bracewell’s book a lot of what the band’s members and others involved with it thought – much of the book is in the form of interviews, interspersed with such questions as, “But would [Roy] Ascott be radical, or simply isolated?” There is the usual name dropping here: “Working alongside Mark Lancaster’s friend Roger Cook (who, like