Limits of the known

David Roberts, 1943-

Book - 2018

A celebrated mountaineer and author searches for meaning in great adventuresand explorations, past and present. --Publisher.

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True adventure stories
New York : W.W. Norton & Company [2018]
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 306 pages : maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [299]-301).
Main Author
David Roberts, 1943- (author)
  • Farthest north
  • Blank on the map
  • Prehistoric 5.10
  • The quest for the other
  • First descent
  • First contact
  • The undiscovered Earth
  • The future of adventure.
Review by Booklist Reviews

When veteran mountain climber Roberts was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer, he could have quietly surrendered to the disease. Instead, he decided to take a hard look at his life, to explore his past and the genesis of his own unquenchable thirst for adventure. The results of that exploration are contained in this revealing memoir. In looking at himself, Roberts also examines the lives of other adventurers, looking for ways his life is reflected in theirs: Fridtjof Nansen, who led an expedition in the late nineteenth century to find the geographical North Pole; Eric Shipton, who dreamed of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest; Michael Leahy, who searched for gold in New Guinea; and many others. Roberts writes with a journalistic eye, looking at younger versions of himself as though they were people to be understood. In the end, his book is about rediscovering himself, even as he faces a frightening reminder of his own mortality. A unique combination of penetrating self-analysis and armchair travel. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Roberts (Alone on the Ice) is a widely published mountaineer and explorer with more than 25 books and numerous articles written on the subject. With the news of his recent cancer diagnosis, he sets out to answer questions surrounding his professional life choices. Why have I devoted my life to exploration? Have I contributed anything to this world? To help him come to terms with his life choices and answer these questions, Roberts considers the stories and motives behind several expeditions, explorers, and extraordinary feats throughout history. What follows is a recounting of an attempt to reach the North Pole when many were competing to get there first, a traverse of the globe's last undocumented terrain in the mountains of Pakistan, an examination of the remarkable climbing skills the Anasazi displayed in their daily lives, and first expeditions by raft down treacherous rivers in New Guinea and Ethiopia, among others. Roberts' preference for a traditional and purist approach to exploration might be off-putting to some, as he often shows disdain for technology-guided and media-documented projects, but his engrossing writing and gripping adventure stories will appeal to outdoors and history enthusiasts. VERDICT Highly recommended, especially for those who enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Eiger Dreams.—David Miller, Farmville P.L., NC Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Roberts, an adventurer and author of nearly 30 books (Alone on the Ice, etc.), movingly reflects on his life prior to undergoing throat-cancer treatment that made physical exertion nearly impossible for him. The diagnosis led him to consider the meaning of his own adventures and those of other explorers, such as Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay and British Arctic explorer Henry Worsley. Interspersed with these vivid retellings of other's adventures are reminiscences about Roberts's own outdoor pursuits, many of which were life-or-death undertakings. Roberts's initial revelation while undergoing chemotheraphy was that when he looked at explorers, he saw "little point... in trying to unearth an overarching purpose in our madness," yet he eventually surmises that his love for adventure was "encoded" in his DNA; he felt an inherent need for the knowledge and companionship that dangerous situations require. Roberts also reflects on life's bittersweet joys, such as when he looks at a recent photo, taken with his wife on a short hike, that captures "my emaciated feebleness but also the happiness of that day." Roberts conveys the exhilaration and vitality of adventuring as well as the agony and anger of a cancer diagnosis with equal aplomb, making for a moving narrative that speaks to the glories of the human spirit and the limitations of the human body. (Feb.) Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The mountaineer recounts his search for meaning in the quests of history's famed explorers, drawing partially on his own relationship with extreme-risk adventure and serious illness to share insights into what may have motivated landmark expeditions and ascents.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The mountaineer and award-winning author of Alone on the Ice and The Lost World of the Old Ones recounts his search for meaning in the quests of history's famed explorers, drawing partially on his own relationship with extreme-risk adventure and serious illness to share insights into what may have motivated landmark expeditions and ascents.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In this memoir/ history, mountain climber David Roberts, who has written many books on mountaineering and adventure, confronts a cancer diagnosis that inspires him to reflect on his adventures, research the role of explorers in history, and ponder how and why people venture into extreme environments. Annotation ©2018 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A Finalist for the 2019 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports WritingA celebrated mountaineer and author searches for meaning in great adventures and explorations, past and present.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

Washington PostLimits of the KnownIn the wake of his diagnosis with throat cancer, Roberts seeks answers with sharp new urgency. He explores his own lifelong commitment to adventuring, as well as the cultural contributions of explorers throughout history: What specific forms of courage and commitment did it take for Fridtjof Nansen to survive an eighteen-month journey from a record "farthest north" with no supplies and a single rifle during his polar expedition of 1893–96? What compelled Eric Shipton to return, five times, to the ridges of Mt. Everest, plotting the mountain’s most treacherous territory years before Hillary and Tenzing’s famous ascent? What drove Bill Stone to dive 3,000 feet underground into North America’s deepest cave?What motivates the explorers we most admire, who are willing to embark on perilous journeys and push the limits of the human body? And what is the future of adventure in a world we have mapped and trodden from end to end?