Travel literature review: Mud, Sweat, and Tears

Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography by Bear Grylls

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by David Gorvett

Now world-famous for his starring role in Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls has been the holder of various world records, including being the youngest-ever Briton to climb Mount Everest (aged 23), holding the world’s highest open-air formal dinner party (at 25,000 feet, suspended beneath a hot air balloon) and being the youngest-ever Chief Scout of the Scouting Association and its 28 million Scouts around the world. Born in 1974, you might feel that he’s a touch young to be penning an autobiography (Mud, Sweat and Tears was published in 2011, when Bear was 37 years old), but given his mammoth list of achievements (the above-mentioned are just a few from the list) perhaps it is not too soon after all.

Grylls takes the reader through the events that have made him the person he is today: his family life growing up on the wind-swept Isle of Wight (a favourite sailing destination of mine for short day-trips off the southern coast of England!); his school days at the private boarding school, Eton; and then his university days in Bristol. It is while studying at the University of West England, in Bristol, that he takes the decision to apply for the SAS Reserves – an army regiment that has served as a model for Special Forces around the world, and is infamous for its gruelling selection process. Unfortunately, while Grylls’ style of writing lends itself well to the adventures he goes on to describe in the SAS selection chapters (and then later as he details his incredible Everest conquest), it is not so well suited to talking about family life or the trials and tribulations of boarding school. He writes in staccato sentences and short chapters (in the first 100 pages alone there are 28 chapters – and a prologue), and I found ‘Part 1’ of the five-part book a real struggle to get through.

As Grylls will tell you, though, perseverance is key, and Parts 2-5 of the autobiography are much more suited to this cliff-hanger style of writing. The Everest chapters, in particular, provide a fascinating account of what it takes to make a summit ascent of the world’s highest peak. Grylls is an adventurer, a motivational speaker and an inspiration to many, and despite writing not being among his fortes, the first-hand accounts of climbing Mount Everest and taking on the SAS Selection challenge (twice!) make this book worth a read for the perseverant.

David Gorvett, originally from the UK, works for Lonely Planet in its Melbourne office, and has been a keen traveller throughout much of the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe.

Read more travel literature reviews here.