The best books on the Alps

Stephen O'Shea Author Of The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond
By Stephen O'Shea

The Books I Picked & Why

A Tramp Abroad

By Mark Twain

A Tramp Abroad

Why this book?

In a travelogue which spends much of its time in the Alps, Twain delivers anecdotes of haplessness that will make readers smile, if not laugh out loud. Twain portrays himself as an American naif who thinks he understands everything while actually understanding nothing at all.


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The White Spider: The Classic Account of the Ascent of the Eiger

By Heinrich Harrer

The White Spider: The Classic Account of the Ascent of the Eiger

Why this book?

The monster of the Bernese Alps, the north face of the Eiger (“the Ogre”), a sheer face of rock taunting and tempting intrepid Alpinists, resisted all attempts to climb it until 1938. Prior to that, climbers fell to their deaths with distressing frequency, made even more macabre by an accident of touristic geography that provided a luxury hotel on a nearby hillock with an unobstructed view of the serial catastrophes. The Austrian Herrer at last summited the face in this white-knuckle tale of determination, grit and luck.


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Terror on the Mountain

By Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz

Terror on the Mountain

Why this book?

Swiss novelist Ramuz delivers a taut, engrossing tale about Alpine villagers whose decision to tempt fate ends in disaster. Ignoring the pleas of their elders, some young men take their flocks to summer in an upland mountain pasture that is reputed locally to be a cursed place. It turns out that the reputation is well earned.


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The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919

By Mark Thompson

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919

Why this book?

In a masterpiece of narrative history, Thompson details the insanity of fighting trench warfare in the ice of the high Alps. The Italians faced off against the Austro-Hungarians and launched repeated calamitous offensive in appalling conditions. A dénouement of sorts occurred when the Italians were utterly routed at Caparetto (Kobarid, Slovenia) in 1918.


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First on the Rope

By Roger Frison-Roche

First on the Rope

Why this book?

France’s highest-profile contribution to Alpine fiction, Frison-Roche’s story traces the trials and joys of a family of mountaineers in Chamonix during the 1920s and 1930s. Spectacular evocations of the grandeur of Mont Blanc and the dangers of traversing the terrors of the unforgiving mountains and glaciers – it’s all here, and served up with panache.


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