Boxtree, £15.99stg

Picture, if you will, a group of Victorian ladies and gentlemen carefully picking their way up a rocky path; all raised skirts and polished boots. Arriving at a promontory that overlooks an awe-inspiring view of the Swiss Alps, they barely glance at the stunning site before turning their backs on it and settling down for a picnic. Servants scurry in front of them holding aloft a large, ornately framed mirror. The assembled gentry 'ooh' and 'aah' at the reflected glory of the mountains, neatly contained within the mirror. Witness the cult of the picturesque.

This kind of behaviour was the birth of mountaineering. Before anyone felt there might be merit in climbing the monstrous things, people were travelling to admire them. Admire them, that is, very firmly from the bottom.

Charting the history of mountaineering as it grew in popularity from the early part of the nineteenth century, 'Mountain Men' deals with the great mountains, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Everest, K2 and McKinley. The stories are fascinating, inspiring and at times astounding. Wry and amusing, the book carries you along on a wave of glacial ice, hobnail boots, disappearing tents, snapping ropes and a procession of brave and quite probably crazed mountaineers.

Become involved in the snake oil schemes that first sold the mountains to the public, follow the pioneering and grimly determined men who travelled from London to ascend the first grudging peaks with only a little help from the local peasantry. Watch the repeated failure to conquer certain mountains and their inevitable labelling as 'unclimbable'. Awe at the climbers who disproved the labels and those who died trying. Wonder at the gall of some to stake false claims and the men who worked to discredit them.

The air of tall tales and high drama is infectious. The combination of related stories, old diary entries and analysis keeps you interested and eventually amazed at the courage, audacity and foolhardiness of the key players. Accompanying the popular BBC series of the same name, 'Mountain Men' was written by Series Producer, Mick Conefrey and Associate Producer Tim Jordan, who also worked on the 'Icemen' series and tie-in book.

A fine history of man's achievements on the world's highest mountains, this book will either hook you on climbing or swear you off ever going near anything taller than the stairs again.

March Rogers.