Climbing a mountain seems to be a favorite item on many people’s bucket lists. It’s also a revered pastime for staying fit and getting close to nature. But what motivates people to do so? And why do so many risk life and limb on mountain climbing and other such difficult challenges? The reasons why go far beyond the usual quip of, “Because it’s there.” It turns out human beings are hardwired to seek challenges, and their motivations for doing so are deeply rooted in spirituality.
In his book CLIMBING HIGHER, Robert Wheeler, PhD, sets out to find the true motivations for why people take on such arduous tasks as climbing mountains. Dr. Wheeler argues that humans have what he calls an “ontological imperative,” a need to seek meaning beyond themselves. Dr. Wheeler draws on a wide range of research from a variety of disciplines, including–but not limited to–psychology, philosophy, religion and spirituality. He presents his findings with sophistication and scholarly wit, sometimes tending toward the dry side, but still managing to be engaging. Dr. Wheeler is somewhat dismissive of organized religion, favoring a more open approach to spirituality described as “nognosticism,” in which one admits one does not know what is out there but can still be comfortable with this lack of knowledge.
In addition to scientific research, the author includes his own considerable mountaineering experience. Several chapters outline his treks up mountains in South America, Asia, and Africa. It is in these chapters that the writing really shines. Dr. Wheeler provides a vivid picture of the thrill of scaling a mountain and the often arduous steps required to do so. Standouts include two climbs of Japan’s Mount Fuji and the truly admirable climb–as an octogenarian–of Africa’s Kilimanjaro. One can almost smell the mountain air as the author describes his climbing experiences with sharp focus and vivid imagery. It’s enough to make even the most timid folks want to try climbing a mountain, just to capture that elation upon reaching the summit.
Perhaps the only real criticism of CLIMBING HIGHER is that the chapters devoted to research tend to be somewhat dense and dry but that in no way detracts from its overall readability. Mountain climbers and students alike will find this book a worthwhile read.
CLIMBING HIGHER is a fascinating, vividly written and well-researched look at the science behind climbing mountains and the reasons that compel humans to do so.
~Heather McNamara for IndieReader