Book Reviews: August 2007

Together on Top of the World: The Remarkable Story of the First Couple to Climb the Fabled Seven Summits
Phil and Susan Ershler with Robin Simmons
Warner Books, April 2007, 289 pages.

Finally a “Seven Summits” book that is more than a check-off on someone’s “life list.” Together on Top of the World takes us up to the high places of the planet and into the personal lives of the authors. As much memoir as it is a travel adventure, Together will appeal to a wide range of readers. In his thirties when Phil Ershler met Susan Burger, he thought he was over the “big” mountains and was ready to settle down and run his business, International Mountain Guides. Ershler makes his living helping others achieve their climbing goals. Often this includes summiting the highest peak on each continent, the seven summits. In his capacity as a Himalayan climber and international mountain guide, for Phil, the seven summits were history long before the idea of doing it as a couple emerged.

Together on Top weaves a sketch of the couple’s early lives with tales of adventure in the high places of the world. For the mountain enthusiast Phil’s accounts of his early years in the Cascades and Himalaya will be the meat of this book. The weekend climber and armchair mountaineer will enjoy Sue’s descriptions of her struggles with mountaineering. The behind-the-scenes story of the give and take in a relationship between two highly talented and motivated individuals provides a model for building relationships. Keeping this aspect of the book as a background element prevents the book from becoming a self-help guide.

Sue’s desire to learn Phil’s craft and join him on some of his extended trips set the stage for their eventual success on the seven summits. Once the couple realized only Everest and Kosciuszko, the Australian “hill” remained, Sue dedicated herself to becoming fit enough for Everest. Two years of intensive training and one failed attempt on Everest later the couple made their goal. Read their story and share the joy of May 18, 2002, Everest summit day and the end of the quest.

Stan Miller


Cheap Motels and A Hot Plate-An Economist’s Travelogue
Michael D. Yates
Monthly Review Press, 2006, 208 pages.

Reading a book written by an economist isn’t something most people want to spend their free time doing. And at first glance this book fits that model and doesn’t seem to be the exception, but it proves to be an unexpectedly entertaining, albeit unorthodox, account of an American road trip. As can be seen from the title, the author, an achieved professor of economics, quits his job, sells his belongings and sets out on a five-year journey across the country with his wife living in motels and cooking in rooms without kitchens.

Many of the places in this book-Portland, Oregon; Key West, Florida; Sedona, Arizona-are familiar-but the lens through which the author sees them isn’t. His interpretation of the amenities and luxuries of a place takes into consideration the people who make them happen. The economic gap between those who work in the service industry and those who receive the services is great and even though this isn’t big news, it is unsettling to the author who, being about as left-leaning as possible, thinks it’s far from ideal. Although this may sound like boilerplate, it does challenge one to consider the socioeconomic welfare of people who aide the convenience of our lives from those who harvest the food we eat to the clerks who sell it to us.

Yates and his wife spend short stints working what they thought would be relatively low stress jobs-in places as far ranging as Yellowstone partkto Manhattan-while trying to learn how people in the area live and understand the demographics of each place. Their experience cultivates a newfound appreciation of the low-wage worker and the difficulties they endure.

Even the most remote humanitarian with the slightest interest in travel will find this an invigoratingly fresh account of America that will make you want to get in the car and go.

Joel N. Young


Let’s Get Primitive: The Urban Girl’s Guide to Camping
Heather Menicucci
Ten Speed Press, 2007, 224 pages.

In her new book, New York-based writer/filmmaker, Heather Menicucci, makes the brave assertion that even the most city-loving, stiletto-wearing, designer-bag-carrying girl can find her primitive roots and enjoy a weekend of camping in the backcountry.

Introduced to the world of camping by a good-looking Eagle Scout, Menicucci’s life was changed forever when she found a world of wonder and discovery she had never dreamed possible. Menicucci starts out by regaling readers with tales of her first camping trips and encourages urbanites to start journaling about the type of camping experience they’d like to have and then make it a reality with Menicucci’s guidelines and advice. What follows is a practical guide that will thoroughly prepare and educate even the most inexperienced urban girl in the ways of packing for a trip, having a good time camping, safety in the great outdoors and leaving nature undisturbed.

Menicucci covers all the basics-where to camp, how to pitch a tent, what to eat and how to cook it and clean up afterward, and of course, how to poop in the woods. Each step of the way is filled with fun and girly antics to make camping as feminine and fashionable as each reader wants it to be-pooping included! Let’s Get Primitive is realistic for first time campers, giving special attention to camping on a budget. Cute diagrams show how to make your own sleeping bag and crafty sidebars detail how to get around spending too much on essentials.

Let’s Get Primitive is the book lots of people have been waiting for to convince their all too girly girlfriends, friends or sisters to go camping with them. And it’s not just for first timers, Menicucci’s recipes for Cheesy Oatmeal Pepper Bowls and Tipsy Peaches will impress even the most seasoned camping veterans.

Lindsey McLean

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