Mighty mountaineer 'a bundle of paradoxes'

Last updated 05:00 02/08/2013

After Everest: Inside the Private World of Edmund Hillary
Paul Little (Allen & Unwin) $37

Reviewed by Mark Hotton

You would be hard pressed to find a New Zealander who has a bad word to say about Sir Edmund Hillary.

In fact, most would probably argue that he is our greatest Kiwi.

Not only was he the first to stand on top of the world - 60 years ago this week - but he went on to do impressive humanitarian acts in Nepal.

Much has been written about him and his actions, a considerable amount by the man himself, so it would be reasonable to think there was little new material that could be covered.

In fact, Paul Little even questions at the start whether there is any need for another book on the legendary man.

But Little has dug a little deeper into the paradox that Hillary was, using primary sources and interviews with people - including Peter Hillary and other family members - who knew Sir Ed to produce an in-depth portrait.

Little covers Sir Ed's life, from his formative years to his interest in mountains, from climbing Everest to conquering the South Pole, the journey on the Ganges, his time as New Zealand High Commissioner to India, and his aid work in Nepal, as well as the family tragedy - the death of wife Louise and daughter Belinda in a plane crash in 1975.

Little reveals more about the man who was extremely private but became a globally recognised figure, and it makes for an interesting read.

At times there is material you probably do not necessarily need to know but other factual tidbits are fascinating and help to create a more accurate picture. Little also covers the awkward falling-out of family members after Sir Ed's death, including the watch incident that created a significant rift for many years.

The author describes Sir Ed as a "complex bundle of paradoxes" - a private loner who was loved by millions across the globe, an individual who always worked in a team, and a "sometimes distant father who was seen as a surrogate father to thousands of Nepalese".

No matter the tale the book tells, no matter any negative comments about his private character, it cannot undo the legacy Sir Ed left nor take away his title of greatest Kiwi.

If anything, it adds to the legend and leaves you wondering, with his minor flaws, how did he accomplish so much?

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