Book Reviews

The Fear Bubble - Review

To reach the highest point on Earth, Ant Middleton uses The Fear Bubble to face nature's extremes.

JANUARY 2nd, 2020


Author: Ant Middleton

© Channel 4


nt Middleton’s debut bestseller First Man In was a runaway success. It was only natural that a follow up would be released, but The Fear Bubble is so much more than a continuation of Ant’s life and the lessons learnt along the way. Within the first few pages you realise that this book is a manual to blow away the beliefs and systemic ideologies which has dominated society throughout the last few years: victimhood, anxiety and of course – fear.

Similarly with First Man In, Ant uses his own experiences in life to demonstrate the techniques which have allowed him to forge and maintain a positive attitude to life. The Fear Bubble looks back at Ant’s trek to the summit of Mount Everest – a feat of endurance that Middleton sought out for a new challenge, a chance to rediscover that illusive adrenaline that had played such a huge part of his life in the Special Forces.

© Channel 4

But The Fear Bubble is also a unique and unequivocal glance into the challenges of life and how, when tackled through Ant’s techniques, anything is possible.

What has always been admirable with Ant Middleton’s storytelling is his honesty; brutal, focused and in places humorous. He is able to paint a picture of Everest without the self-righteousness of a travel writer, but through the instinctive eyes of a soldier. He sees things as they are, and though sometimes it is beneficial, Ant is never frightened to admit when it bites him in the backside.

Early on the book, Ant tells of the moment he revealed to his wife, Emilie, about his plan of “standing on top of the world”. When questioned whether it would be dangerous, he responded: “Not for me it isn’t. I could walk up Everest backwards.” If you’ve read First Man In you’d believe those words. The experiences Middleton has lived through, the trials and tribulations he has overcome – Mount Everest would be ‘a camping trip. A walk in the park.’

As you read through the climb, taking each agonising and exhausting step with Ant, his Sherpa guide, Dawa and cameraman Ed, you begin to doubt his optimistic words. Bad weather, refusing to commit to performing the advised ‘turnaround’ – whereby climbers ascend from Base Camp to Camp I and then back again, doing the same with Camp II, III and IV. It allows the body to adjust to the altitude and lack of oxygen – Ant pushes the limits. Though as he reaches the summit, savouring the victory of success, you realise that once again you – the reader – was wrong to doubt him.

© Channel 4

You find yourself breathing a sigh of relief that he makes it back to Camp II where he phones Emilie. That call becomes the first time Middleton had ever cried on the phone to his wife, and you fully understand why.

The descent had been marred with horrifying weather. It had resulted in Ant grazing the cornea of one of his eyes, impairing his vision. An unprepared climber had succumbed to the altitude on the infamous Hillary Step, becoming pinned against the rock face. The climber’s Sherpas where attempting to pull him up, but he was out of reach. It led to the agonising decision to cut him loose, essentially feeding him to the King of the Mountains. It is a predicament which Ant describes as the “most horrific thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life”, which is bold statement from a man who has spent years at the forefront of a warzone.

What The Fear Bubble does isn’t just tell the story of Ant Middleton’s trek to the summit of the world, but how other experiences prepared him for the struggle of doing so. He discusses the difference between pride and ego, how the latter can lead to destruction. It was ego which seduced Middleton to wait a few more minutes at the summit of Everest, resulting in the near calamities of his descent.

The base camp of Mt Everest - © Nat Geo

He retells the story of his brother as an example of victim culture – a theme that is exceptionally prevalent in today’s culture. How blaming everyone else for your own misgivings can create a ripple effect that swamps those around you. Each lesson has impacted Ant’s outlook on life. There isn’t a self-pitying bone in the man’s body. Everything is an obstacle, and here are his skills to adapt them to your own.

Much like First Man In, The Fear Bubble touches on Ant’s military career – an exceptionally prestigious one at that. He discusses the choices he made, how when faced with the impossible he adapted to ensure each choice was possible. When he was told to refrain from applying for ‘selection’ – the process of joining the Special Forces – by a fellow soldier named Bench, who was worshipped as an exceptional sniper, he almost allowed the impossible to take control.

But after discovering that the same Bench had tried out himself but withdrew from Special Forces Selection at the last minute, what fear deemed impossible for Bench may not for Ant Middleton.

Cover of 'The Fear Bubble' by Ant Middleton - ©Harper Collins

And this is what The Fear Bubble is all about. It isn’t just conquering fear or controlling it, but using it. Stepping into the ‘bubbles’ and popping them one by one. Adapting these techniques into your own life can transform it, as it did Ant’s. The Fear Bubble enabled him to scale the tallest mountain on Earth, but also teach his son that fear is simply your body ‘getting ready’ for his Mai Thai competition.

Ant writes with an rectitude that isn’t patronising or leaves you feeling inferior. It inspires, teaches and is brutally frank. The Fear Bubble is a must-read. It equips you with techniques and skills for a world that is becoming more and more encompassing, whether it be social media or the daily stresses and strains of everyday life; where everyone has an opinion which is fact. The Fear Bubble is, ironically, the perfect pin to pop the biggest bubble of all, your own, so that one day, you too can summit your own Everest.

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