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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 22, 1997
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Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world. A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall's team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.
Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people -- including himself -- to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer's eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.
Into the Wild is available on audio, read by actor Campbell Scott.
From School Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Villard; 1st edition (April 22, 1997)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 293 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679457526
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679457527
- Lexile measure : 1320L
- Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.44 x 1.06 x 9.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #32,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on November 1, 2018
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"Into Thin Air," written within six months of Krakauer's return from Everest, is the product of his attempts to process exactly what happened up there, how things could go so very wrong and so many very experienced climbers, some of whom had summitted Everest several times before, could have lost their lives: "I thought that writing the book might purge Everest from my life. It hasn't, of course. Moreover, I agree that readers are often poorly served when an author writes as an act of catharsis, as I have done here. But I hoped something would be gained by spilling my soul in the calamity's immediate aftermath, in the roil and torment of the moment. I wanted my account to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty that seemed in danger of leaching away with the passage of time and the dissipation of anguish." Thanks perhaps to the years spent honing his craft as a writer and his discipline as a journalist with deadlines to meet, Krakauer succeeds brilliantly in what he has set out to do. His account is nowhere rushed, hysterical, or lacking in polish; rather, it's a well-told story, supported by carefully researched background and dozens of interviews with other participants in the events, and Krakauer is so much in control of his narrative that it comes almost as a shock how much of a genuine emotional wallop it packs.
Perhaps only a man who stood on the summit of Everest after years of dreaming, only to regret afterwards that he'd ever gone, could tell this story the way Krakauer does, neither glossing over the dangers of the mountain or the waste of good human lives, nor denying the challenge it poses the human spirit simply by being the highest spot on the earth's surface, simply, in the words of a man who died on Everest decades before, "because it is there." "Into Thin Air" is a thrilling, if sobering, tale of adventure. Let's be honest, reading a book like this is as close as most of us are ever going to get to climbing the great mountain - and Krakauer describes so well the challenges of the terrain, the moments of astonishing beauty, the plodding determination that carries the exhausted body ever onward, the effects of high altitude on the body and mind, that our vicarious ascent in his company is thoroughly satisfying. He brings his fellow climbers alive for us, too, in brief but vivid verbal portraits. We are told not only of their mountaineering prowess, but their determination, their amiability, their families, their human faults and foibles. Even though we've known pretty much all along who dies and who lives (the book is dedicated to the memory of those who died, and a photograph of the mountain between the introduction and first chapter is labeled with a map of their route indicating where major events took place, including several deaths), by the time the storm sweeps in we've come to care about these people, to hope without hope, to mourn their deaths, to celebrate every time a survivor makes it to safety.
Some readers have labeled Krakauer arrogant and accused him of placing blame on everyone but himself, but I didn't find this to be the case. He comes down against the practice of guides leading commercial expeditions of clients without the skills or experience to make the climb without constant hand-holding, but he acknowledges that he himself didn't rightly belong there, and has nothing but praise for the skills of Rob Hall and the other guides he knew personally. He doesn't hesitate to point out errors of judgment that might have facilitated or compounded the perils of the situation, but it's more in the nature of pointing out the fallibility of human nature and the general unreliability of the human brain in a state of hypoxia (which, 8000 meters above sea level, supplemental oxygen can only partially mitigate) than pointing fingers or placing blame. There are no villains (except perhaps Ian Woodall, literally the only one of dozens of people he met on Everest of whom Krakauer had nothing good to say whatsoever, who for no apparent reason denied the use of his radio to help maintain contact with survivors and coordinate rescue attempts), but plenty of heroes: men and women who risked their lives venturing exhausted into a storm to rescue others, who held their own grief at bay to console the dying, who handed over their own precious bottles of oxygen to those in greater need, who calmly coordinated communications and rescue efforts during a time of crisis, or who simply managed to keep breathing when it would have been so much easier and less painful to fall asleep forever in the snow. That some of these fine, heroic men and women made the occasional mistake or bad decision says more about the risky nature of their undertaking than about them as individuals. Krakauer doesn't exempt himself from folly or fallibility, either, and in fact he's far harder on himself than he is on any of the others who were with him on the summit that day, living or dead. And granted that the fortitude, endurance, determination, and self-confidence necessary to tackle Everest tend to come hand-in-hand with a certain swagger and cockiness, Krakauer doesn't come across as particularly arrogant. This is a man who lets his readers see him, in the last chapter, broken by grief and survivor's guilt, lying across a bed naked and high on cannabis, with thick sobs "erupting out of my nose and mouth in a flood of snot."
There's enough controversy surrounding the events on Everest in 1996, and particularly Krakauer's accounting of them, that readers who truly wish to understand what happened on the mountain that sad day probably shouldn't rely on this book alone. Fortunately, a number of other books on the subject exist, including at least four other memoirs by survivors of the disaster. "Into Thin Air," however, remains in any case a good place to start - and a thrilling, if ultimately haunting, read.
Because of these risk-takers, the reader in turn is treated to a gripping interesting memoir by Mr. Krakauer for his efforts. There were oodles of dangers involved beyond falling to your death. Climbing to such heights could lead to altitude-related illnesses, constantly being lightheaded and fighting to breath, excruciating headaches, dramatic muscle loss, nausea, wild fluctuations in emotions, frostbite, inadequate sleep, dysentery, vomiting, hypothermia, hallucinations, and being crushed by falling rocks or building-sized ice chunks. ‘Into Thin Air’ corrected many of my presumptions about the size of Everest’s Base Camp, the nature of Sherpas, the history of prior Mt. Everest climbers, and the economic impact on the region due to so many people wanting to climb the damn thing. Mr. Krakauer also spends time giving brief biographies of quite a number of the people in his and other expeditions on the mountain at the same they were on it. Once the storm hits the team while at or near the top of Everest, I could not pull away from the story. The book includes eight pages of black-and-white photographs. The 1999 edition of ‘Into Thin Air’ includes a Postscript where the author convincingly rebuts criticism of his book by one of the other climbers on the expedition who felt his reputation had been maligned by Mr. Krakauer. The journalist has also gone to write six other well-received nonfiction books at the time of this review.
At no time while reading ‘Into Thin Air’ did I think, “Gee, that seems like a lot of fun.” One of the excerpts at the beginning of a chapter states by Walt Unsworth that the American public has no inherent national sympathy for mountain climbing, unlike the Alpine countries of Europe, or the British, who invented the sport. Americans did not accept such reckless risk of life. Speaking as a near-sixty-year-old, couch potato American, that’s a fair assessment. Mr. Krakauer has written an absorbing honest memoir and it understandably left the journalist with psychological scars because of what happened up there. If you have an itch to attempt such a feat, I advise you stick to indoor rock climbing and pretend the wall is Mt. Everest.
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Now I love having a very good understanding of the common route to Everest summit used by commercial expeditions, and challenges of mountaineering,
particularly to the mountains higher than 8.000 meters.
The book is a memoir about Everest disaster where five people out of two expedition groups died in May 1996. Author, Jon Krakauer participated in it, and he was one of the survivors.
He was a writer in the magazine Outsider at the time, and participated in the expedition on the request of the magazine. And he is himself a mountaineer also. This just makes the book very informative, and real.
He wrote his essay about the tragedy in the magazine in September 1996.
And it got back the most response from the readers in the entire history of the magazine.
This was due to two reasons I think. First it was a real eye witness story of the disaster, and
second is that his narrative of the events was controversial since each participator has his own version of the disaster.
So, he came across criticism of unfair reporting, even he is accused of being egoist saving himself and not helping victims. But he also himself felt some doubts on his own version of the story because he might be wrong with some of the things he has written, which could be very sensitive for those who lost their loved ones.
The reason he doubt about himself is that human brain could be unreliable at higher than 8.000 meters with limited oxygen. So he decides to write this book covering entire story as real as and as fair as possible with more investigation.
There are 22 chapters in the book. I think in term of themes it is made up four parts.
First part is introduction which goes until arrival at the base camp at Everest.
Second part is about Base camp and the next two camps.
In these parts author describes the participants in the expedition as they come along the story.
In 1996 May, there were quiet large number of climbing groups made up of around 300 people.
But this book is about two groups.
One of them was Adventure Consultants led by famous mountaineer Rob Hall from New Zealand.
Jon is in this group. Other group one was Mountain Madness led by famous American mountaineer, Scott Fischer.
These two leaders were friends, but also commercial competitors.
There were in total 20 customers in both groups, but together with guides, Nepalese rope fixers, helpers number goes up to 40.
On the day of climbing to summit, both groups moved together.
There is something mysteries in author's writing style that it gives quiet good understanding of the people he is describing. There is sort of rawness beyond realism, coupled with sort of cynicism and sarcasm in his description of people.
This makes reader to have a strong opine on the person he is describing.
Same goes he villages in Nepal on the way to Camps, and the routes between the camps.
And he makes loads of references to climbing history of Everest, special expeditions, accidents, legends of the climbing worlds, technical features of mountaineering.
I almost stop and watched one or more videos for all those references.
Therefore reading went quiet slow pace. But, it just takes you really up to the mountains, and I loved that. So in these early chapters he prepares the reader very well to the disaster part.
In the third apart he covers third and fourth camps, and then climbing to summit and unfolding of events leading to tragedy, and the next day. On the day of climbing to summit, two expedition groups move together. In the next 36 hours leaders of the both groups, one guide, and two customers will be dead.
Jon elaborates on the mistakes, psychology, violation of principles, inconsistencies against initial decisions, egoism, commercial concerns vividly.
Reader would sense that how a human being with all the expertise can be ignorant, irresponsible, egoist when it comes to ACHIVING some commercial or personal success story.
And then in the last part of the book Jon does post disaster evaluation
He looks at back everything happened, reviews them in a judgmental way.
He does this sometimes open ended, sometime for certain.
Here again reader senses that author is very sensitive on fairness, and emotional and concerned about if he would be accused again on unfair, incorrect narration.
But on the other hand he has a stubborn side also keep on insisting on some of his controversial claims. It looks like that another reason he wrote this book is that he has to free himself from this thought of disaster and leave it behind his life.
And before finishing I must say a few words sketched illustrations at the beginning of each chapter.
At first I did not pay attention them too much.
But as I proceed reading and grasping the gravity of situation, particularly psychology, those sketches started getting my attention more and more.
Eventually I loved them and kept staring them a lot.
I can almost say they describe the challenges, and the gravity of the psychological mood may be better than the book. They are just proof of one picture says more than one thousands words.
To his credit Krakauer does not shy away from his own mistakes and responsibilities, though does reinforce the ever person for themselves attitude that he also decries. There is speculation about motives and actions that he could not have been party to, but they do not necessarily feel unreasonable. There is tragedy with this, in his mistaken reporting of Harold being alive and then in the way he likely does, causing more pain for the family, but this was done with the best of intentions.
Not a justification of action, or inaction, but an explanation, one that is perhaps hard to completely accept without the experience of being above 8,000m, but is nonetheless compelling and convincing.
Critical of the lack of relevant climbing experience of the other members of the group, his own does not seem that impressive for the scale of challenge presented by Everest.
Self reflective, and enlightening, the reader cannot help but feel drawn to the personalities as the tragedy unfolds, and poor decision making compounds to big impacts.
A must read for anyone who wants to understand more about the 1996 tragedy.
For me, this book helped me understand why people enjoy 'extreme' mountaineering and did explain the draw Everest has on people. I actually found the history of it - from being named the tallest mountain on Earth, to her naming and the repeated attempts to summit, really interesting.
As to whether this book and the film accurately portray the disaster... I will say the film mostly matches this book, and the author makes it clear that this is how he viewed the events, that he was not operating at peak efficiency and that a lot of people made small mistakes which added up to make the disaster.
The book is well written, and for the most part is measured. It mixes analytical with personal to great effect. Though it isn't a happy read it is an interesting one and I'd recommend this to people interested in the film, the mountain, or the sport of climbing.
Peppered throughout are references to mountaineers of yore which had me going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole more than once. Although climbing Everest isn't on my bucket list, I find stories of how people push themselves to their physical and mental limits compelling and inspiring. However, Krakauer's account of what happened on May 10 and how four climbers from his team tragically came to lose their lives - the crux of this book - was of course difficult to read.
Much has been made of his criticism of Sandy Pittman and Anatoli Boukreev, but I felt his portrayal of both of them was on the whole handled fairly. Many on the mountain that day made poor decisions in extreme circumstances that led to the final outcome. Krakauer himself doesn't shy away from his own culpability, although it clearly haunts him and must have been painful to write about publicly. If I were to have any criticism of this book, it would be that Krakauer's perception of his abilities and that of others came across at times as hubristic. Whilst I don't refute that many - too many - people attempt Everest without qualified experience (and the mountain has claimed many of those lives), the way Krakauer writes about his own abilities versus that of others felt a little arrogant to me. I also got a little lost later in the book on who was who, which left me puzzled for a while. However neither of these points detract from the fact that this book well and truly got under my skin.
I don't give five stars often and I'm not the most avid reader of non-fiction, but this has been one of my surprise reads this year and I would read it again. I'm considering reading Beck Weathers' book now - that truly is a story of survival.