Brotherhood of the Rope

The Biography of Charles Houston

Author: Bernadette McDonald

Series title:

Hardback publication date: 15 May 2007

Hardback ISBN: 9781898573715

SHORTLISTED: Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2007

Charles Houston was a doctor and mountaineer from New England famed for leading the K2 expedition of 1953, and for his pioneering research into high-altitude medicine. His mountain adventures, varied medical career and the associated challenges in his family life are related by award-winning author Bernadette McDonald in this candid biography.

'Is it not better to take risks than die within from rot? Is it not better to change one’s life completely than to wait for the brain to set firmly and irreversibly in a way of life and one environment? I think it is ... taking risks, not for the sake of danger alone, but for the sake of growth, is more important than any security one can buy or inherit.' – Charles Houston

It was the failed summit attempt and a failed rescue in the Himalaya that brought Charles Houston MD fame and adulation in the mountaineering world. His leadership of the American K2 expedition of 1953 is still celebrated as the embodiment of all that is right and good in the mountains.

Houston, a doctor from New England, became a leading authority in high altitude ailments and artificial heart research, advising the US government, military and academia. He made an unparalleled contribution to mountain medicine, building some of the first artificial heart prototypes in his garage and playing a key part in Kennedy’s 1960s Peace Corps initiatives in India.

In Brotherhood of the Rope, Boardman Tasker Prize winning author Bernadette McDonald traces the development of an American hero. This is the biography of a well-heeled New England medical man who excelled at expedition leadership and whose experience in the mountains helped his research into high altitude medical matters during his long and varied career as a doctor. Houstons’s mountain adventures, the ups and downs of his varied medical career and the associated challenges of family life are related in a candid biography that touches on many aspects of twentieth-century affairs.

Bernadette McDonald is the author of eleven books on mountaineering and mountain culture, including Art of Freedom (2017), Freedom Climbers (2011), Alpine Warriors (2015), Keeper of the Mountains (2012), Tomaž Humar (2008) and Brotherhood of the Rope (2007). McDonald has won numerous awards, including her second Boardman Tasker Prize and the Banff Award for Mountain Literature for Art of Freedom in 2017. She won her first Boardman Tasker Prize and the Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Prize for Freedom Climbers in 2011. She has also won Italy’s ITAS Prize for mountain writing (2010) and is a three-time winner of India’s Kekoo Naoroji Award for Mountain Literature. In 2012 the American Alpine Club awarded her their highest literary honour for excellence in mountain literature. She was the founding Vice President of Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre and director of the Banff Mountain Festivals for twenty years. She has also received the Alberta Order of Excellence (2009), the Summit of Excellence Award from the Banff Centre (2007), the King Albert Award for international leadership in the field of mountain culture and environment (2006), and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). Bernadette has degrees in English Literature and Music, with specialisation in performance and analytical theory. When not writing, she climbs, hikes, skis, paddles and grows grapes.

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