Winner of the Kekoo Naoroji Award for Mountain Literature 2019
An engrossing story of passion and exploration that traces the end of empire and the stirring of a new world order.
John Auden was a pioneering geologist of the Himalayas. Michael Spender was the first to draw a detailed map of the North Face of Mount Everest. While their younger brothers – W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender – achieved literary fame, they vied for a place on an expedition that would finally conquer Everest. To this rivalry was added another: their shared love for a painter named Nancy Sharp. Her choice would determine each man’s wartime loyalties.
From Calcutta to pre-war London to Everest itself, The Last Englishmen tracks a generation obsessed with a romantic ideal. With a cast including writers, artists, political rogues and spies, this is narrative history at its most engaging and illuminating.
'Wholly original... It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is something Tolstoyan to Baker's vast project... Remarkable' Neel Mukherjee
‘An exuberant, scene-changing, shapeshifting group biography’ Spectator
"Wholly original...a dense, rich, exhilarating piece of work that moves deftly between worlds and peoples...she keeps the big events always in view, dramatizing and humanizing the workings of history, particularly the story of empire and its machinations, in a way a novelist would – by making it a story of individuals... It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is something Tolstoyan to her vast project...remarkable"
"In The Last Englishmen, Deborah Baker has written an exuberant, scene-changing, shapeshifting group biography, with John Auden and Michael Spender as its chief human protagonists. But she makes the Himalayas, and Mount Everest, palpable and vivid characters in her story too"
"An enlightening and utterly compelling read… what really distinguishes the book is its brilliant characterisation and its structural agility. It reads like fiction. Anyone seeking only information will be disappointed. Non-fiction ought always to be this engaging"