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Contact: W.W. Norton
Sidecountry: John Branch
Last 5 Reviews
An Ice Climber's Guide To Southern New Hampshire and Eastern New York
By Todd Swain


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Sidecountry: John Branch
W.W. Norton

A great collection of 20 of NY Times sports reporter John Branch's personal favorite stories. While not all are about climbing, all are entertaining and in some cases riveting. A few you might have read in the Times, like his Pulitzer winning story Snow Fall; an unsparing and deeply human analysis of the Tunnel Creek avalanche tragedy. Or perhaps The Dawn Wall, the epic story of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson's free climb of the Dawn Wall on El Cap. But you may not have caught Lost Brother; his telling of the unfortunate and never fully explained deaths of Dean Potter and Graham Hunt in a simultaneous BASE jumping accident in Yosemite. Even less likely Deliverance From 27,000 Feet; the story of the recovery from Everest of the bodies of three climbers from the Bengali state of India.

And tucked in amongst the 368 pages are stories about a women's basketball team in Tennessee who has never won a game, the largest alligator ever caught, the best horseshoe thrower alive, abalone divers off the northern California coast, the rich man's game and lure of bighorn sheep hunting, and a very different view of the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant and is daughter.

Dare I call them short stories, tales, articles...I don't know? Whatever you call them, to each Branch brings a deeply human side. He is a reporter, but also a storyteller who has an ability to convey the details, but still bring the reader into his subjects space. Even stories that are only peripherally about "sport", like the one about the Rubik Cube competitions or the race caller at Hollywood Park are engaging.

Conclusion:  This is one of the more engaging books I've read in some time. While I didn't read it on one sitting, I finished each story on the same day or evening I started it. As busy as I am, that says a lot! Highly recommended...

Details: 368 pages, 20 stories

Al Hospers
August 2021

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