An extraordinary true story about one man’s attempt to salve the wounds of war and save his own soul through an audacious adventure.
In the 1930s, as official government expeditions set their sights on conquering Mount Everest, a little-known World War I veteran named Maurice Wilson conceives his own crazy, beautiful plan: he will fly a plane from England to Everest, crash-land on its lower slopes, then become the first person to reach its summit—all utterly alone. Wilson doesn’t know how to climb. He barely knows how to fly. But he has the right plane, the right equipment, and a deep yearning to achieve his goal. In 1933, he takes off from London in a Gipsy Moth biplane with his course set for the highest mountain on earth. Wilson’s eleven-month journey to Everest is wild: full of twists, turns, and daring. Eventually, in disguise, he sneaks into Tibet. His icy ordeal is just beginning.
Wilson is one of the Great War’s heroes, but also one of its victims. His hometown of Bradford in northern England is ripped apart by the fighting. So is his family. He barely survives the war himself. Wilson returns from the conflict unable to cope with the sadness that engulfs him. He begins a years-long trek around the world, burning through marriages and relationships, leaving damaged lives in his wake. When he finally returns to England, nearly a decade after he first left, he finds himself falling in love once more—this time with his best friend’s wife—before depression overcomes him again. He emerges from his funk with a crystalline ambition. He wants to be the first man to stand on top of the world. Wilson believes that Everest can redeem him.
This is the tale of an adventurer unlike any you have ever encountered: complex, driven, wry, haunted, and fully alive. He is a man written out of the history books—dismissed as an eccentric, and gossiped about because of rumors of his transvestism. The Moth and the Mountain restores Maurice Wilson to his rightful place in the annals of Everest and tells an unforgettable story about the power of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
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“The Moth and the Mountain is gorgeous and deeply affecting book: a tale of tragedy and obsession, pluck and luck, told at the pace of a thriller and bursting with heart. Ed Caesar deploys every ounce of his considerable journalistic skill as he uncovers the true story of a great British eccentric driven by forces he only partly understands to the ends of the earth. This book deserves to be counted alongside Wade Davis’s Into The Silence as one of the best ever written about the early attempts to conquer Everest. It is a fine, fine slice of history by a truly special writer who proves time and time again that he is among the best of his generation.”
Dan Jones, author of The Templars
“A wonderful adventure story, beautifully told. Based on years of painstaking archival research, Ed Caesar’s The Moth and the Mountain brings us a modern-day myth with a beguiling, impossible hero from a vanished era of empire, one man on an epic quest that is by turns gripping and heartbreaking.”
— Adam Higginbotham, author of Midnight in Chernobyl
“The Moth and the Mountain is a gripping story of heroism, adventure, madness, and thwarted love, told with extraordinary empathy and intelligence. Ed Caesar is a writer of rare style and depth, and he has written a great and moving work of nonfiction.”
— Mark O’Connell, author of Notes from an Apocalypse
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About Ed Caesar
Ed Caesar is an author and a contributing writer to The New Yorker. Before joining The New Yorker, Caesar wrote stories for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Outside, The Smithsonian Magazine, Esquire, The Sunday Times (London), British GQ, and The Independent. He has reported from a wide range of countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Russia, and Iran. He has won a number of awards for his journalism, including the 2014 Journalist of the Year from the Foreign Press Association of London. His first book, Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, was awarded a Cross Sports Book of the Year award.
About James Langton
James Langton, an Earphones Award–winning narrator, trained as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and later as a musician at the Guildhall School in London. He has worked in radio, film, and television, also appearing in theater in England and on Broadway. He is also a professional musician who led the internationally renowned Pasadena Roof Orchestra from 1996 to 2002.