Calling the annual Accidents in North American Mountaineering the Darwin Awards of climbing is accurate in the sense that most accidents are not accidents at all, but the result of poor decision making. Since backcountry adventure involves risk simply by engaging in it, we often reserve our harshest judgement for those who wager with the peaks and lose, believing it can't happen to us.
The truth is we all exercise poor judgement to some degree, in some situations, some of the time, usually when we're tired, inexperienced or just plain not paying attention. Books like this give us insight into what the consequences could have been on a different day, and thus serve as a valuable reminder to wear a helmet, tie a knot in the end of your rope when rappelling, and generally fight fate with alertness, education and solid preparation before ever leaving town.
This year's edition calls out ascending devices as a point of interest, having been involved in a couple of accidents where they were deployed incorrectly. As usual many of the accident descriptions are from Alaska and Denali, including the sad tale of the talented Japanese climbers the Giri-Giri boys. The missing pair was located last year on the Cassin.
ANAM could be more useful if it were delivered in a more timely fashion, e.g. a blog. Stories in the 2009 edition are from the 2008 climbing season, and so miss two full big mountain seasons. Also odd are some questionable inclusions such as the one on page 12 where a sport climber takes a crux fall and breaks a leg. This kind of thing is not particularly instructive and reads a bit like someone trying too hard to get in print. In general the publication would be more useful if it were less of an encyclopedia and included more detailed treatement of fewer cases. Nonetheless, it's always worth the read.