The Uncrowned King of Mont Blanc

The life of T. Graham Brown, physiologist and mountaineer

Author: Peter Foster Mr Lindsay Griffin

Series title:

Signed Paperback publication date: 11 Jul 2019

Signed Paperback ISBN: 9781898573821

The Uncrowned King of Mont Blancby Peter Fosteris the story of Thomas Graham Brown: scientist, mountaineer and psychological paradox, most famous for his groundbreaking routes on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc and his turbulent relationship with Frank Smythe.

Shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature. The Uncrowned King of Mont Blanc by Peter Foster is the biography of scientist and mountaineer Thomas Graham Brown, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the mountain earned him the soubriquet, and whose achievements in the Alps and Greater Ranges place him at the forefront of British mountaineering between the two world wars. Born in Edinburgh in 1882, Graham Brown first pursued a career in the sciences as a physiologist – his exacting father demanding the highest standards – and the results of his research, largely unrecognised at the time, now underpin current understanding of the nervous control of movement in animals and man. His mountaineering career began in earnest after the First World War. From rock climbing in the Lake District he progressed to guided climbs in the Alps, where in 1927 he was fatefully introduced to Frank Smythe with whom he made the groundbreaking first ascents of the Sentinelle Rouge and the Route Major on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc. This resulted in an obsession with the mountain and a feud between the pair that smouldered and flared for twenty years. Ambitious, determined and uncompromising in his views, he never left others feeling neutral: Geoffrey Winthrop Young thought him ‘a vicious lunatic’, yet Charles Houston felt closer to Graham Brown ‘than almost anyone else I know’. Graham Brown’s life was one of turbulence in his career, relationships and in the mountains, whether on expeditions to Mount Foraker, Nanda Devi and Masherbrum, or most frequently, the Alps. Peter Foster has drawn upon diaries, letters and extensive archival research that illuminate the highs and lows of Graham Brown’s scientific and climbing careers, and explores the imbalance between the significance of his achievements and the lack of recognition he received. But, above all, The Uncrowned King of Mont Blanc allows one to hear Graham Brown’s voice: querulous, opinionated and, to the discomfort of his many adversaries, almost always right.

Peter Foster is a retired consultant physician. Educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, he qualified in medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. After junior posts in Stoke, Nottingham and Leeds he was appointed consultant gastroenterologist in Macclesfield. His climbing career followed a similarly conventional route, from Harrison’s Rocks, where his father held the rope, via North Wales and Ben Nevis in winter to the Alps, where ambition was not always matched by ability and resulted in a more than usual number of unplanned bivouacs. While still a medical student he was one of a two-man trip to the Himalaya; little was achieved but it provided a memorable experience. He has been a member of the Alpine Club since 1975 and still climbs in the Alps most summers but his long-held ambition to climb Mont Blanc by one of Graham Brown’s routes up the Brenva Face remains unfulfilled. His interest in mountaineering history goes back to schooldays when he first started book collecting. He has contributed articles to the Alpine Journal, and The Uncrowned King of Mont Blanc is his first book. He is married to Kate, has three grown-up children and two grandchildren. He lives on the edge of the Peak District.

Lindsay Griffin is the compiler and editor of Mountain INFO – the most authoritative journal of record that documents mountaineering achievement, and served as president of the Alpine Club from 2014–2017.

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