Geoff Powter, a connoisseur of adventure tales and a practising clinical psychologist, has made a revealing study of the dark side of heroism. Every culture, every era, has its adventure myths: the golden hero willing to walk through fire elevates us all beyond our fears and limits. But more often than not, there are darker reasons for dangerous pursuits: Polar explorer Captain Scott has been called a 'willing martyr' ready to die for the mystical deliverance of adventure. Claudine Juedel launched her quest to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, she was a sailing novice - by design. Maurice Wilson's Everest climb involved deliberately crashing his plane on the mountain. Aviatrix Jean Batten, polar balloonist Solomon Andree and mountaineer Aleister Crowley were all labelled pathologically, even fatally, arrogant. If they had succeeded, though, would they - like Ernest Shackleton - have been called heroes not madmen? In the end, understanding these stories helps us both comprehend the deepest purpose and allure of adventure.
Geoff Powter is a clinical psychologist with a forensicassessment practice in Alberta, Canada. He is a veteran of 13 climbing expeditions to the Himalayas, a contributing editor to Explore, the leading Canadian outdoor-adventure magazine, and a recipient of a National Magazine Award.