Book Review: Alone on the Wall

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

The name Alex Honnold is unknown to a lot of people… unless you’re into rock climbing. At just 30 years old, Honnold is world renowned for his free solo ascents. That means he climbs massive rock formations – without any protective gear whatsoever.

Honnold has been featured in several magazines and movies. His latest venture? Alone on the Wall, co-written with climber/author David Robert about Honnold’s top 7 climbs.

There’s no doubt about it: Honnold is impressive. You only need to look at his book cover to see that, as he hangs by just his limbs off a rock formation that soars above mountains. But his book leaves something to be desired.

Sure, the stories told in Alone on the Wall are interesting. After all, it’s hard not to be fascinated by someone who performs death-defying climbs and consistently claims they’re “no big deal” – so much so that the phrase substitutes as Honnold’s nickname. And Alone on the Wall does give some psychiatric insight into Honnold. For example, the rock climber doesn’t believe in an afterlife. But just because life is precious doesn’t mean we should “baby” it, in Honnold’s words.

Unfortunately, Alone on the Wall suffers from two major issues. The first is that Honnold is, surprisingly enough, just not that compelling of a character – perhaps because he’s not that likable.

Like anybody, Honnold has several good qualities. He’s determined and clearly doesn’t see his climbs as a big deal. Plus, he repeatedly demonstrates his commitment to good deeds. The Alex Honnold Foundation helps people in need around the world, and Honnold is especially committed to helping the environment in any way he can.

But in Alone on the Wall, there are several moments in which Honnold also comes off as immature and arrogant. He’s occasionally outright disrespectful to the people he climbs with, insisting he can do it better. He tends to be right – but these moments did nothing to bolster the “modesty” Roberts kept insisting he had. Plus, the relationship Honnold has with now-ex-girlfriend Stacey Pearson only furthers Honnold’s immaturity – although that’s an observation Roberts and Honnold would likely both refute. It doesn’t help that this relationship is the only non-climbing one focused on in the book. Honnold is so obsessed with climbing (as are most of his acquaintances) that he comes off as occasionally flat and one-dimensional.

The second major issue is in the format of the book itself. The parts written by Honnold focus on specific ascents he made up various rock formations around the world, including the intricacies of how he climbed. Unfortunately, the language of climbing is quite specific. And while Roberts does a decent job explaining the various terms in the beginning of the book, a non-climber like myself was drawn out of Honnold’s more dramatic exploits by the unfamiliar vocabulary. While the ascents’ minutiae will likely fascinate climbers, I would have preferred a less technical look at Honnold’s feats.

The sections written by Roberts don’t fare much better – primarily because they draw so much from other sources. For example, there are several magazine articles written by others excerpted in Alone on the Wall. I didn’t mind these articles; indeed, it was interesting to see firsthand accounts of Honnold both as a person and a climber by other pro athletes. If you already followed Honnold’s career, however, you might feel like you’re reading the same things over and over again. Also, much of Roberts’ writing also focuses on various photos and movies in which Honnold appeared. Sure, it’s interesting to see some behind-the-scenes action. As Roberts describes, many of the films of Honnold’s feats are actually recaps of his originals, or miss some crucial element because they can’t redo the original climb. But although these films must have been breathtaking and suspenseful in real life, it just doesn’t translate well to the page.

Alone on the Wall‘s saving grace is in the fact that Honnold’s accomplishments are impressive enough to stand on their own. Unfortunately, the rest of the book just doesn’t measure up.

My takeaway? If you’re already a rock climber or a fan of Alex Honnold, you’ll enjoy Alone on the Wall. Otherwise, I say skip it. 30-year-old Honnold is a kid who’s gotten incredibly good at one thing – but he’s still a kid, and one whom you’ll ultimately learn little from. There are better inspirational biographies out there.

Liked this? Check out our review of Feeling Loved

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

The name Alex Honnold is unknown to a lot of people… unless you’re into rock climbing. At just 30 years old, Honnold is world renowned for his free solo ascents. That means he climbs massive rock formations – without any protective gear whatsoever.

Honnold has been featured in several magazines and movies. His latest venture? Alone on the Wall, co-written with climber/author David Robert about Honnold’s top 7 climbs.

There’s no doubt about it: Honnold is impressive. You only need to look at his book cover to see that, as he hangs by just his limbs off a rock formation that soars above mountains. But his book leaves something to be desired.

Sure, the stories told in Alone on the Wall are interesting. After all, it’s hard not to be fascinated by someone who performs death-defying climbs and consistently claims they’re “no big deal” – so much so that the phrase substitutes as Honnold’s nickname. And Alone on the Wall does give some psychiatric insight into Honnold. For example, the rock climber doesn’t believe in an afterlife. But just because life is precious doesn’t mean we should “baby” it, in Honnold’s words.

Unfortunately, Alone on the Wall suffers from two major issues. The first is that Honnold is, surprisingly enough, just not that compelling of a character – perhaps because he’s not that likable.

Like anybody, Honnold has several good qualities. He’s determined and clearly doesn’t see his climbs as a big deal. Plus, he repeatedly demonstrates his commitment to good deeds. The Alex Honnold Foundation helps people in need around the world, and Honnold is especially committed to helping the environment in any way he can.

But in Alone on the Wall, there are several moments in which Honnold also comes off as immature and arrogant. He’s occasionally outright disrespectful to the people he climbs with, insisting he can do it better. He tends to be right – but these moments did nothing to bolster the “modesty” Roberts kept insisting he had. Plus, the relationship Honnold has with now-ex-girlfriend Stacey Pearson only furthers Honnold’s immaturity – although that’s an observation Roberts and Honnold would likely both refute. It doesn’t help that this relationship is the only non-climbing one focused on in the book. Honnold is so obsessed with climbing (as are most of his acquaintances) that he comes off as occasionally flat and one-dimensional.

The second major issue is in the format of the book itself. The parts written by Honnold focus on specific ascents he made up various rock formations around the world, including the intricacies of how he climbed. Unfortunately, the language of climbing is quite specific. And while Roberts does a decent job explaining the various terms in the beginning of the book, a non-climber like myself was drawn out of Honnold’s more dramatic exploits by the unfamiliar vocabulary. While the ascents’ minutiae will likely fascinate climbers, I would have preferred a less technical look at Honnold’s feats.

The sections written by Roberts don’t fare much better – primarily because they draw so much from other sources. For example, there are several magazine articles written by others excerpted in Alone on the Wall. I didn’t mind these articles; indeed, it was interesting to see firsthand accounts of Honnold both as a person and a climber by other pro athletes. If you already followed Honnold’s career, however, you might feel like you’re reading the same things over and over again. Also, much of Roberts’ writing also focuses on various photos and movies in which Honnold appeared. Sure, it’s interesting to see some behind-the-scenes action. As Roberts describes, many of the films of Honnold’s feats are actually recaps of his originals, or miss some crucial element because they can’t redo the original climb. But although these films must have been breathtaking and suspenseful in real life, it just doesn’t translate well to the page.

Alone on the Wall‘s saving grace is in the fact that Honnold’s accomplishments are impressive enough to stand on their own. Unfortunately, the rest of the book just doesn’t measure up.

My takeaway? If you’re already a rock climber or a fan of Alex Honnold, you’ll enjoy Alone on the Wall. Otherwise, I say skip it. 30-year-old Honnold is a kid who’s gotten incredibly good at one thing – but he’s still a kid, and one whom you’ll ultimately learn little from. There are better inspirational biographies out there.

Liked this? Check out our review of Feeling Loved

Written by Sasha Graffagna

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