Jewish World Review May 30, 2003 / 28 Iyar, 5763
National Geographic goes to the top of the world
MT. EVEREST, May 29, 1953 -- "Yahooo!!!" Edmund Hillary screams into the thin, frozen air at the top of the world.
"We're number one!!!" shouts Tenzing Norgay, raising his ice pick into the cloudless blue sky.
The tired, intrepid mountaineers -- a lanky New Zealand colonial and an indigenous Sherpa from Nepal -- have plenty of room to hug and high-five each other on this domed peak, despite the presence of a reporter and photographer from the New York Times' Kathmandu bureau.
History is being made on this bright morning 29,035 feet in the Himalayas. The pair have become the first men to conquer the deadly rocks and snow of the world's tallest mountain.
"I don't know why the devil I wanted to do this," Hillary yells into the howling wind, the spittle freezing on his moustache as Tibet, Nepal and the rest of Asia lay spread out beneath his oversized boots. "But I couldn't have done it without Gore-Tex and faithful Tenzing here. I just hope I am quickly knighted by the Queen and become an encyclopedia reference."
OK, so Rick Bragg and the New York Times weren't really there 50 years ago today, when Hillary and Norgay climbed their way into the history books.
To get the real story of how the famous duo did it -- plus your own digital map of Mount Everest -- you'll have to rely on the words, illustrations, maps and photos of the May National Geographic, which has Hillary's face on the cover.
National Geographic's package includes articles about Hillary, the mountain, the Sherpas and a mini-memoir by Hillary, a good, humble man of 83 who says his most satisfying accomplishment in life has been building schools and hospitals for the Himalayan people.
For Hillary fanatics, there's "The Greatest Adventures of All Time," a special $11 issue of Life magazine -- a once culturally important magazine that now exists only in special issues.
A long Q&A with Hillary is the centerpiece of a 30-plus page spread of Everest stuff that includes the story of George Mallory, who died near Everest's top in 1924 and is the one who famously said he climbed Everest "because it was there."
Along with the first climbing of Everest, Life's greatest adventures include the polar expeditions, moon missions and the aerial heroics of the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
History of a more down-to-earth kind can be found in American Heritage, which in its July issue marks the 100th birthday of the Ford Motor Co. with "Prime Mover," a piece by historian Douglas Brinkley about the revolutionary impact on America of the Model T Ford.
The Model T -- deliberately made and marketed for the masses by Henry Ford -- became the world's first mass-transportation mode. Cheap, practical but incredibly versatile and liberating, it was loved by farmers and women, too.
When the Model T was introduced in 1908, it democratized the automobile and proved that capitalism could become the servant of the masses, Brinkley says. It also transformed what was then an expensive, much-hated toy for arrogant, careless rich people into a product a whole society could love -- until the SUV came along.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald