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To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth

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This riveting and uplifting memoir by Vanessa O’Brien, record-breaking American-British explorer, takes you on an unexpected journey to the top of the world’s highest mountains. Long before she became the first American woman to summit K2 and the first British woman to return from its summit alive, Vanessa O’Brien was a feisty suburban Detroit teenager forced to reinvent h This riveting and uplifting memoir by Vanessa O’Brien, record-breaking American-British explorer, takes you on an unexpected journey to the top of the world’s highest mountains. Long before she became the first American woman to summit K2 and the first British woman to return from its summit alive, Vanessa O’Brien was a feisty suburban Detroit teenager forced to reinvent her world in the wake of a devastating loss that destroyed her family. Making her own way in the world, Vanessa strove to reach her lofty ambitions. Soon, armed with an MBA and a wry sense of humor, she climbed the corporate ladder to great success, but after the 2009 economic meltdown, her career went into a tailspin. She searched for a new purpose and settled on an unlikely goal: climbing Mount Everest. When her first attempt ended in disaster, she trudged home, humbled but wiser. Two years later, she made it to the top of the world. And then she kept going. Grounded by a cadre of wise-cracking friends and an inimitable British spouse, Vanessa held her own in the intensely competitive world of mountaineering, summiting the highest peak on every continent, and skiing the last degree to the North and South Poles. She set new speed records for the Seven Summits, receiving a Guinness World Record and the Explorers Grand Slam, and finally made peace with her traumatic past. During her attempt on K2, she very nearly gave up. But on the “savage mountain,” which kills one out of every four climbers who summit, Vanessa evolved from an adventurer out to challenge herself to an explorer with a high-altitude perspective on a changing world—and a new call to share her knowledge and passion across the globe. Told with heart and humor, Vanessa’s journey from suburban Detroit to Everest’s Death Zone to the summit of K2 and beyond, is a transformative story of resilience, higher purpose, and the courage to overcome any obstacle.


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This riveting and uplifting memoir by Vanessa O’Brien, record-breaking American-British explorer, takes you on an unexpected journey to the top of the world’s highest mountains. Long before she became the first American woman to summit K2 and the first British woman to return from its summit alive, Vanessa O’Brien was a feisty suburban Detroit teenager forced to reinvent h This riveting and uplifting memoir by Vanessa O’Brien, record-breaking American-British explorer, takes you on an unexpected journey to the top of the world’s highest mountains. Long before she became the first American woman to summit K2 and the first British woman to return from its summit alive, Vanessa O’Brien was a feisty suburban Detroit teenager forced to reinvent her world in the wake of a devastating loss that destroyed her family. Making her own way in the world, Vanessa strove to reach her lofty ambitions. Soon, armed with an MBA and a wry sense of humor, she climbed the corporate ladder to great success, but after the 2009 economic meltdown, her career went into a tailspin. She searched for a new purpose and settled on an unlikely goal: climbing Mount Everest. When her first attempt ended in disaster, she trudged home, humbled but wiser. Two years later, she made it to the top of the world. And then she kept going. Grounded by a cadre of wise-cracking friends and an inimitable British spouse, Vanessa held her own in the intensely competitive world of mountaineering, summiting the highest peak on every continent, and skiing the last degree to the North and South Poles. She set new speed records for the Seven Summits, receiving a Guinness World Record and the Explorers Grand Slam, and finally made peace with her traumatic past. During her attempt on K2, she very nearly gave up. But on the “savage mountain,” which kills one out of every four climbers who summit, Vanessa evolved from an adventurer out to challenge herself to an explorer with a high-altitude perspective on a changing world—and a new call to share her knowledge and passion across the globe. Told with heart and humor, Vanessa’s journey from suburban Detroit to Everest’s Death Zone to the summit of K2 and beyond, is a transformative story of resilience, higher purpose, and the courage to overcome any obstacle.

30 review for To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. The first woman to climb the dangerous peak K-2 tells her story. She was making her own way as a teenager, hit it big in the financial sector before the crash, and began climbing mountains. Nothing ground breaking, but very readable.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Heather Fineisen

    Karen climbs a mountain. Don't get me wrong. O'Brien has accomplished major feats in climbing and.exploration but she complains quite a bit and gives her two cents to the more skilled leaders of expeditions. I liked the straight mountaineering narrative rather than when she ties it with corporate world implications. I get that this is for future talks but it feels forced. Accomplished and determined, an adventurous woman in climbing dominated by men. For that alone it's worth the read for arm ch Karen climbs a mountain. Don't get me wrong. O'Brien has accomplished major feats in climbing and.exploration but she complains quite a bit and gives her two cents to the more skilled leaders of expeditions. I liked the straight mountaineering narrative rather than when she ties it with corporate world implications. I get that this is for future talks but it feels forced. Accomplished and determined, an adventurous woman in climbing dominated by men. For that alone it's worth the read for arm chair adventurers. Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lissa

    I have read so many books about alpine mountaineering but I believe this is the first written by a woman, which excited me greatly from the very first page. Vanessa O' Brien was highly successful in the finance sector when 2008 caused the recession and for her to ultimately lose her job. In her forties and at a loss as to what to do next, she (fairly randomly, to me at least) decides to set a goal to climb Mount Everest...and she does. This is a chronicle of all of her climbs as she breaks a rec I have read so many books about alpine mountaineering but I believe this is the first written by a woman, which excited me greatly from the very first page. Vanessa O' Brien was highly successful in the finance sector when 2008 caused the recession and for her to ultimately lose her job. In her forties and at a loss as to what to do next, she (fairly randomly, to me at least) decides to set a goal to climb Mount Everest...and she does. This is a chronicle of all of her climbs as she breaks a record for climbing the seven summits faster than any other woman and as the first American woman to summit K2. Vanessa is INTENSE, and at times that was a little hard to take. I'm pretty sure that she may be the complete opposite personality of me, however, I too find myself in my forties and a turning point, deciding what to do next and while Everest is not in my cards, I found this book completely inspirational and aspirational for whatever goal I do decide to conquer. Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for a complimentary digital ARC of this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Renee Landegger

    "Vanessa tells an incredible story and provides extraordinary insight into the real meanings of Grit, Courage and Perseverance. Her generosity of spirit is also evident throughout her book and her writing style made me feel I was actually a part of her K2 adventure, not just an observer. I loved this book and am sending it to my women family members and friends. Can't think of a better story than Vanessa’s as inspiration for never giving-up on reaching one’s full potential." "Vanessa tells an incredible story and provides extraordinary insight into the real meanings of Grit, Courage and Perseverance. Her generosity of spirit is also evident throughout her book and her writing style made me feel I was actually a part of her K2 adventure, not just an observer. I loved this book and am sending it to my women family members and friends. Can't think of a better story than Vanessa’s as inspiration for never giving-up on reaching one’s full potential."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Miller

    An incredible story for a time when we are needing a little inspiration and sense of adventure! Each of Vanessa's detailed accounts of her attempts and summits give you a sense of the toughness that is required to make such heroic assents. A good balance of seriousness for the various climbs, well intentioned humor, and thought provoking discussions. As a hopeful climber, this was all the motivation I needed to start pursuing my goal of getting to the top of Denali. I 100% recommend this book to An incredible story for a time when we are needing a little inspiration and sense of adventure! Each of Vanessa's detailed accounts of her attempts and summits give you a sense of the toughness that is required to make such heroic assents. A good balance of seriousness for the various climbs, well intentioned humor, and thought provoking discussions. As a hopeful climber, this was all the motivation I needed to start pursuing my goal of getting to the top of Denali. I 100% recommend this book to any reader hoping to feel inspired!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary Garner Rees

    In To The Greatest Heights, Vanessa O’Brien takes the reader to the the edges of the earth — including the summit of Mount Everest as well as the tip of the North Pole — to show that sometimes it takes pushing yourself to the unlikeliest of places in order to discover your truest self. Yes, it is about mountaineering, but even more than that, it’s the story of a human’s capacity for denying her trauma or her gender to determine her limits, all told with infectious humor and sobering honesty.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I won an advanced copy of this book on Goodreads. I have always enjoyed books on mountain climbing. I have never done anything close to this sort of thing but I find it riveting. What an amazing woman! She is a determined person who climbed all the great mountains of the world, including visits to the North and South Poles. An engaging and enjoyable read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth by Vanessa O’Brien is a memoir of this world record breaking explorer. Ms. O’Brien is the first American woman and British woman (dual citizenship) to climb K2, and climbed the highest peak in every continent in 295 days, a world record. Ms. O’Brien certainly has accomplished a lot in her life. She holds several world records, have For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth by Vanessa O’Brien is a memoir of this world record breaking explorer. Ms. O’Brien is the first American woman and British woman (dual citizenship) to climb K2, and climbed the highest peak in every continent in 295 days, a world record. Ms. O’Brien certainly has accomplished a lot in her life. She holds several world records, have met many interesting people, has a supporting husband, sponsors, does what she wants and when she wants. Mostly. To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth by Vanessa O’Brien (book website) tells of the authors successful attempts at the Seven Summits Challenge and the Explorers Grand Slam (climb the seven summits and reach the North and South poles). Along the way, Ms. O’Brien talks about her past, and her life philosophy. I really enjoyed the parts where the author writes about mountaineering, obviously her passion. She makes interesting observations and doesn’t skip the bad or difficult parts. There is a lot of information in this book about subjects I haven’t read about in other books. What does it feel like being in close quarters with a stranger, the smell of unwashed bodies weeks on end, why there no, or very little, sex on expeditions, and what happened when you get sick – among others. The author complains quite a bit, but I thought that was the charm of the book, and she took responsibility, not putting the blame on others (most of the time). I love to travel, or just “go places” and often times the things to go wrong make the trip more memorable. Ms. O’Brien also tells of her climb to the top of K2, a notoriously difficult task. This climb was one of her most proud achievements, and rightly so it is a major part of this book. The connections the author tries to make between the mountaineering world and the corporate world seem forced. I get that this is a bouncing board for paid speech gigs, but I enjoyed reading about the mountaineering much more. People often forgot to credit luck and privilege for their success (which doesn’t take anything away from your hard work). I got the feeling that Vanessa O’Brien knows she’s lucky, but forgot privileged. She made a ton of money, or so it seems, early on in her career, furthermore her husband has to make good money to support her hobby. Accordingly, most people can’t comprehend to spend $50K – $70K on …. well… anything besides a house. Yes, she had to skimp and save here and there, but that’s still a chunk of change for the vast majority of people. And yes, that is jealousy talking!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    I used to read more non-fiction than I do now so it's always harder for me to get into the books than with fiction. So much of what has happened in Vanessa O'Brien's life seems like it couldn't have all been experienced by one person in real life. The tragic events in Vanessa's teenage years gave her an inner strength and drive that few people at any time seem to have. It lead her to break several records in regards to climbing/mountaineering. This book gives people like myself, who have no inten I used to read more non-fiction than I do now so it's always harder for me to get into the books than with fiction. So much of what has happened in Vanessa O'Brien's life seems like it couldn't have all been experienced by one person in real life. The tragic events in Vanessa's teenage years gave her an inner strength and drive that few people at any time seem to have. It lead her to break several records in regards to climbing/mountaineering. This book gives people like myself, who have no intention of climbing any mountain, a look at the danger, pain, sorrow and triumph that are part of trying to summit various mountains around the world. Sometimes she had success on her first try and other mountains were challenge that took several attempts. I think this book would be a great resource for those who are thinking about trying to summit any of the highest mountains of the world. She shares the challenges and dangers she and other climbers faced. I think if you are even dreaming of doing any of the climbing she did you should give this book a read. As I said I would never think of doing any of the things she was able to do, but I still found it interesting. I am sure others will as well so pick up this book and see what this author was able to achieve.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    An excellent Memoir of Vanessa O'Brien's extraordinary mountaineering accomplishments, including having been the first woman to have summited K2. "K2, on the Chinese-Pakistani border in the Karakorum Range, has one of the deadliest records: 87 climbers have died trying to conquer its treacherous slopes since 1954. Only 377 have successfully reached the Summit." This Author's determination, strategy and perseverance in achieving her goals is an example of managerial excellence at its best and sho An excellent Memoir of Vanessa O'Brien's extraordinary mountaineering accomplishments, including having been the first woman to have summited K2. "K2, on the Chinese-Pakistani border in the Karakorum Range, has one of the deadliest records: 87 climbers have died trying to conquer its treacherous slopes since 1954. Only 377 have successfully reached the Summit." This Author's determination, strategy and perseverance in achieving her goals is an example of managerial excellence at its best and should be required reading in every Graduate Business School curriculum.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Johanna Garton

    Extraordinary narrative written by one of America's finest alpinists. Vanessa O'Brien's story is unique in telling the story of her accomplishments in business and sport, where she rose to the top with determination and grit. This is more than a book for mountaineers, but an appealing read for those of us unaccustomed to life in the mountains and longing to understand what drives those who seek such high peaks. O'Brien's writing style is fluid and engaging, with chapters racing by as the reader Extraordinary narrative written by one of America's finest alpinists. Vanessa O'Brien's story is unique in telling the story of her accomplishments in business and sport, where she rose to the top with determination and grit. This is more than a book for mountaineers, but an appealing read for those of us unaccustomed to life in the mountains and longing to understand what drives those who seek such high peaks. O'Brien's writing style is fluid and engaging, with chapters racing by as the reader yearns to find out how she'll approach each challenge. Highly recommend this compelling read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Akindle

    To the greatest heights by Vanessa O'Brien When I searched for non-fiction books I thought I would like to read on NetGalley, I came across this one. A story of a woman who managed to climb the Seven Summits, both Poles and K2, this is a 4 star book to me. I picked it because I like climbing stories. Her non-climbing stories in this memoir are good as well. She kept climbing even when things got tough. To the greatest heights by Vanessa O'Brien When I searched for non-fiction books I thought I would like to read on NetGalley, I came across this one. A story of a woman who managed to climb the Seven Summits, both Poles and K2, this is a 4 star book to me. I picked it because I like climbing stories. Her non-climbing stories in this memoir are good as well. She kept climbing even when things got tough.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Justin Renquist

    Great book from an old friend Well done. I've known Vanessa since the mid 1980s, and a more determined woman doesn't exist. Accomplished mountaineer but also human. I was sad to see some ahem important 80s backstories omitted, but I believe I understand why. Vanessa and her mom were kind and helpful to me when few others were, and I'll always be grateful. Good job V. Speed read this in an hour before gongyo. Is space the final frontier now? Great book from an old friend Well done. I've known Vanessa since the mid 1980s, and a more determined woman doesn't exist. Accomplished mountaineer but also human. I was sad to see some ahem important 80s backstories omitted, but I believe I understand why. Vanessa and her mom were kind and helpful to me when few others were, and I'll always be grateful. Good job V. Speed read this in an hour before gongyo. Is space the final frontier now?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Rutland Gillespie

    I thought this was an interesting read...nothing spectacular or riveting, but for a true story, it was unique. I enjoyed reading about her adventures and struggles and truly admired her determination. Some very interesting details, especially if you are a mountain climber (I am not). I can see where this book would be extremely entertaining to someone who knows the ins and outs of mountain climbing. I would recommend it!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna Blackwell

    This book was superb. I was captivated from page one (did the classic 'glance at the first page, didn't put down for 2 hours' move). It's been a while since I've read an adventure book, but this has got me feeling so inspired and motivated. Vanessa's story, attitude to challenge and life, and her writing has blown me away. She is an absolute powerhouse of a woman! This book was superb. I was captivated from page one (did the classic 'glance at the first page, didn't put down for 2 hours' move). It's been a while since I've read an adventure book, but this has got me feeling so inspired and motivated. Vanessa's story, attitude to challenge and life, and her writing has blown me away. She is an absolute powerhouse of a woman!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    The subtitle seems to indicate the book is about more than climbing mountains. It is, but just barely. So you should really like stories about rich people climbing mountains....

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

    Wow, O'Brien has amazing determination! This was an interesting read. Wow, O'Brien has amazing determination! This was an interesting read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Eugenie

    An inspiring memoir of a woman who has achieved her dreams of climbing the highest peaks by using the skills she acquired in the business world.

  19. 4 out of 5

    M.

    It was a good read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Breana

    I've heard of Vanessa O’Brien, so I was excited to get my hands on her upcoming book. To the Greatest Heights was an excellent memoir. O’Brien didn’t sugarcoat the realities of mountain climbing as she recounted her experiences on as many notable mountains as I can think of—just off on the top of my head, think Everest and Kilimanjaro among the many others. She talked about it with a searing honesty, and mentioned her successes as often as she did her failures and the hard learned lessons she ga I've heard of Vanessa O’Brien, so I was excited to get my hands on her upcoming book. To the Greatest Heights was an excellent memoir. O’Brien didn’t sugarcoat the realities of mountain climbing as she recounted her experiences on as many notable mountains as I can think of—just off on the top of my head, think Everest and Kilimanjaro among the many others. She talked about it with a searing honesty, and mentioned her successes as often as she did her failures and the hard learned lessons she gained by experience. The reality was grim, dangerous, and somewhat gross at times. However, I have to admire O’Brien’s determination to continue climbing even when faced with injuries, subzero temperatures, and sweltering heat among other hazards that come with mountaineering. Since this was a memoir, O’Brien also talked about her life, career, and the family tragedies that made her the person she was. It also was often correlated with key moments in the book. So as she would talk about her experiences on a mountain or at the North and South Pole, she would also delve into more personal topics. To the Greatest Heights was, at its core, about O’Brien and her personal journey with mountaineering. It was as much about the mountains as it was about her life. It was fantastic, and I highly recommend this one. Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Atria/Emily Bestler Books) via Netgalley for this review, thank you! This review is also posted on my blog, Our Thoughts Precisely

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Felicity LuHill

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Morris

  25. 4 out of 5

    greta cyrus

  26. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Johnson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Fazio

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christina Stockard

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