The Last of his Kind is an eminently readable bio of a remarkable character. Not only was Bradford Washington arguably the greatest mountaineer of his age, a man who bagged more than a fistful of firsts and who revolutionized climbing techniques, he was an accomplished nature photographer, whose work shooting mountains from an open-door airplane remains the best of its sort. In addition, he was asked to take over a sclerotic natural history museum and transformed it into the Boston Museum of Science.
We see Washington from tyke-hood to his final days, nearly a century later. His is an interesting story, filled with adventure, daring challenges, and the petty personal politics that seems to beset all people at the highest and most modest levels of accomplishment.
Roberts had a personal reason for writing about Washington. The elder statesman of American mountaineering was a friend and mentor to the author. The result of this was access to a wealth of personal documents. Roberts’ friendship included that of Washington’s wife, and her memory and insights pervade the work.
So it came as a surprise that in reading about this unknown (to me) character, who, as a character, had so much to offer, I felt as if I was watching him from afar. There is a distance in the writing that I found perplexing. Maybe I was unconsciously comparing this book with the vastly superior Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg. In that book I felt the characters come alive. Here they lay relatively flat. Also, as someone with no particular interest in mountaineering, I did not feel wholeheartedly engaged in the excitement of crashing through barriers in the world of mountain climbing. I have nothing against it. It is just not my particular cup of tea. But if you have a little interest in the topic, this book will encourage those wishing to learn more. It is a good, engaging, and interesting read, just not an outstanding one.