The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Breaking Trail, by Arlene Blum

Like Gertrude Bell, whose biography I reviewed recently, Arlene Blum is a super-accomplished woman. And they have a couple of things in common — neither ever married, and they were both ardent mountaineers, breaking stereotypes as they ticked off first ascents. But that is about where the resemblance ends. For example, Bell came from a warm, supportive family, whereas Blum … not so much. In fact, her family was wildly, insanely, doggedly, and even militantly unsupportive of just about everything she tried to do. Yes, as with all people who behave strangely there are explanations. But still, I’m surprised they ever let her cross the street. And she was so bright and ambitious. She really had to have a strong sense of self to get past all the negativity that surrounded her as a child.

Anyway, this autobiography is engrossing, extremely well-written, and presents a great picture of what women in the “breakthrough generation” went through in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, when Blum found the biochemistryPhD program at MIT to be inhospitable to women, she transferred to UC Berkeley, where she also met some of her future climbing partners.

And, at its heart, this is a book about mountain climbing. Blum was a leader on ascents of Annapurna I, Everest, and Denali. Some of her 30+ expeditions were all-female teams. The hostility of many male climbers has been written about before, but Blum even names names. Of course, she was also held to a higher standard than the men applied to themselves. If anything at all went wrong on one of her expeditions, it was held up as proof that women couldn’t handle mountaineering, while at the same time such incidents went unremarked upon when the teams were all male.

Blum definitely has a prickly side, though. With that childhood, I would expect nothing less. I’m just noting that it’s there, and that most people have never tossed a plateful of food into a man’s face. That was the only incident of its nature, but it was illustrative. Blum also seemed to have many 6-month to 4-year relationships with men, describing most of these as fizzling out. That’s too bad, because she seems like a nice person. But she’s clearly headstrong, and those aren’t the easiest people to live with.

Anyway, she’s an unusual woman who’s led an interesting life and wrote an excellent book about it. This comes with my recommendation.

As for animals, there’s not much. She adopted some kittens in grad school, observed animals in her travels, and tells a very brief, sad story about a chicken. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

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April 15, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews | , , , ,

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