This month I review Not Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire by Nicholas Howe. The edition I review here was released in 2000. Since then a tenth anniversary edition has been released. Not Without Peril is one of the more popular books on the market addressing the various deadly mishaps that have occurred in the White Mountains. If you are going to own a few books about the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, this should definitely be one of them. It is a classic.
The book has seventeen chapters and addresses fatal incidents from 1849 to 1994. The author dedicates one chapter to the summit of Mount Washington and describes the summit’s various buildings, the weather observatory’s origins, and also how the summit has been used for military purposes over the years. Few writers have the extensive first-hand knowledge of the Presidential Range that Mr. Howe did, and he graciously shares this knowledge with the reader, which enhances the book tremendously. Mr. Howe took the time to walk in the footsteps of many of the unfortunate individuals who perished. Bottom line: the author knew his stuff, and it shows in his writing. The kind of intimate knowledge one gains from “time on the trails” simply can’t be faked.
I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and the stories he chose to tell in the book are interesting and kept to the right length. One of the more intriguing chapters in the book (Chapter 16) deals with a rescue operation from Madison Springs Hut in 1986. The author’s unvarnished description of the life and death decisions that were made during this tragic incident was exceptional.
Not Without Peril contains an excellent selection of interesting pictures, some dating as far back as the 1850s, a time when the power of these mountains wasn’t yet fully respected or understood. The book also contains topographical maps which inform the reader of the exact route each of these doomed individuals took. These maps help the reader gain a fuller understanding of what went wrong in each case.
The only criticism I have with this book is that it lacks a bibliography. Although this may not be an issue for the casual reader, it is a common courtesy to include footnotes and a bibliography so that other authors can efficiently research and enhance the scholarship of a subject. Mr. Howe mentions a few of the libraries that were helpful to him (and one periodical), but that only points researchers in a general direction. He identifies certain individuals who shared “living memories” of some of the accidents with him, but even these interactions should have been more fully documented.
I only found a few mistakes in the book (for example, in Chapter 2 the age and date of death of Lizzie Bourne is inconsistent with the Appendix). Overall, though, it is well-written and highly accurate. Not Without Peril is a must read for any fan of the White Mountains.
Sadly, Mr. Howe is no longer with us. He died on April 4, 2019 at the age of 85. All the more reason to pick up a copy of this popular book.
For those who are interested, another excellent book to consider owning is Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne. See our review of this book here.
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