MacFarlane, Robert 1976-

views updated

MACFARLANE, Robert 1976-


Born 1976. Education: Attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Granta Books, 2/3 Hanover Yard, Noel Road, London N1 8BE, England.


Writer. Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Cambridge, England, fellow.


Guardian First Book Award, 2003, for Mountains of the Mind.


Mountains of the Mind, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to the London Observer, Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books.


With Mountains of the Mind, writer and mountaineer Robert Macfarlane studies the roots of the current glorification of mountains and mountain climbing as a sport. While some have attributed this twentieth-century cultural evolution to artistic movements that have glorified the natural beauty of mountains, Macfarlane contends that the trend is actually an outgrowth of a changing view of the Earth as early geologists and biologists began to realize that mountains were not immovable objects but vestiges of an Earth moved by glaciers rather than static "warts" on a planted shaped by God. Romanticized by writers such as Voltaire, Thoreau, and Keats, they gained a spiritual quality as an earthly formation that brought men closer to the universal, the impenetrable, and the unbound.

With thorough research and first-hand knowledge of the mountain-climbing sport, Macfarlane delves into the rich history surrounding mountains and their cultural acceptance and evolution, creating what a Kirkus Reviews writer praised as a "crisp historical study of the sensations and emotions people have brought to (and taken from) mountains, laced with the author's own experiences scrambling among the peaks." During the seventeenth century and before, mountains were regarded in disdain and contempt, as something to avoid as an obstacle. While noting that "Much of Macfarlane's terrain is … previously traveled" by authors such as U.S. historian Simon Schama, London Observer contributor Ed Douglas added that the author, "a mountain lover and climber, has a more visceral appreciation of mountains than Schama. He is also a more engaging writer, his commentary, always crisp and relevant, leavened by personal experience beautifully related." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Mountains of the Mind "rather like some idiosyncratic, hand-drawn map of terra incognita. But for romantic mountain-struck readers, Macfarlane's rich thoughts may make snow clouds clear, revealing new peaks and new wonders." Roy Herbert, in New Scientist, called Macfarlane's debut a "magnificent book" and "a tumult of delights all the way," while New York Times Book Review contributor John Roth-child quipped that while "There's fascinating stuff here, and a clever premise," Mountains of the Mind "may cause recovering climbaholics to trace their addiction to their early homework assignments and file class-action lawsuits against their poetry teachers."



Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Mountains of the Mind, p. 590.

New Scientist, May 10, 2003, Roy Herbert, review of Mountains of the Mind, p. 52.

New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2003, John Rothchild, "Fatal Attraction."

Observer (London, England), May 11, 2003, Ed Douglas, "Peak Practice."

Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003, review of Mountains of the Mind, p. 213.*

About this article

MacFarlane, Robert 1976-

Updated About content Print Article