In 1933, Maurice Wilson — First World War hero, drifting veteran, and amateur aviator, lands in the aerodrome at Purnea in British India. His goal is to be the first man to climb Mt. Everest. And nothing — not his complete lack of climbing experience, the lack of official permission, and the efforts of British civil servants — will stop him.
Ed Caesar’s The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest (Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster, 2020) tells Wilson’s tale, tracing his story from the First World War, through drifting across the English-speaking world to his sudden drive to climb the world’s tallest mountain. He buys a biplane, flies to India, sneaks into Tibet and attempts to climb Everest, only to succumb to the elements on its slopes in 1934, like so many before and after.
In this interview, Ed and I talk about the story of Maurice Wilson, and the two stages of his quest to Everest’s summit: the flight to India, and the climb up the mountain’s slopes. We discuss how the geopolitical situation of the day affected his travels, and where Ed’s interest in this failed summit attempt comes from.
Ed Caesar is an author and a contributing writer to The New Yorker. Before joining The New Yorker, he wrote stories for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Outside, and the Smithsonian Magazine, He has reported from a wide range of countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Russia, and Iran. His first book, Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon (Penguin UK: 2015), was awarded a Cross Sports Book of the Year award. He can be found on Twitter at @edcaesar and Instagram at @byedcaesar.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.