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Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome Hardcover – May 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Madgic claims that "in the annals of hiking tragedies caused by lightning," an ill-fated climb up Yosemite's famed Half Dome mountain by five experienced hikers in 1985 was "one of the most calamitous... of all time." Two of the hikers were killed and three sustained life-altering injuries after they decided to ignore signs of an oncoming thunderstorm and continued climbing a mountain whose peak had been struck by lightning during every month of that year. Madgic, a writer on the outdoors and a Half Dome climbing vet, delivers a well-written and thoroughly investigated account, but his real subject is less the hikers and more the "raw, fearsome power" of lightning. While he provides in-depth profiles of each hiker and their shared enthusiasm for risk taking as a way of conquering "personal fear," he makes it clear from the start that none of them "really knew the capacities, behaviors and dangers of thunderstorms." Madgic provides a fascinating—if somewhat stomach-churning—account of how the walls of a cave the hikers took refuge in conducted the electrical charge that devastated them, and his contribution to the adventure category is at once a terrifying story and an urgent cautionary tale. Photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The sheer face of Half Dome, the huge granite rock formation in Yosemite National Park, extends 2,200 feet from its base to its crest. Madgic gives a brief history of its early climbers, then tells the story of five hikers who began their climb on the evening of July 27, 1985, in the face of an imminent thunderstorm. One of three groups of climbers that day, it was headed by Adrian Esteban and Tom Rice. They planned to backpack to the top, camp there, and celebrate Rice's birthday the next day. Madgic offers a biographical sketch of the climbers and gives a vivid description of storms that frequently occur across the Sierra Nevada. A bolt of lightning killed two of the climbers and gravely injured three others. Madgic recounts their daring rescue by paramedics in a helicopter, which transported them to a medical center in Sacramento. This is a penetrating account of this tragedy. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Burford Books (May 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580801307
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580801300
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A. Cooper on October 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the true story of a handful of hikers who attempted to climb the venerable Half Dome, and faced a battle for their lives when a thunderstorm moved in.

First, the writing: Bob Madgic writes a tale as gripping as The Voyage of the Endurance, or Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. The adventure speeds along with succinct descriptions that don't bog down the pace of the story. He has an easy and straightforward style, encompassing many viewpoints and answering (or attempting to answer) the many questions a reader would have. Very, very well done.

There are two main groups in this book: the injured hikers, and the many people who fight to save them. The heroes in this story are those who risked their own welfare to help total strangers. The main question, however, is what in the world made the hikers do something so incredibly reckless and stupid.

Those honors go to Tom Rice, a charismatic young man who guides a group of hikers (both skilled and total novices) on a trail that leads into hell. Both of the victims in this tragedy were first-timers on the Half Dome, though many others suffered a physical and emotional toll.

I couldn't put this book down, though I was discouraged by the ending (as often happens in real life.) Rice comes off as narcisscistic and contemptible, concerned primarily with a sad need for attention and his addiction to his adrenaline rush. He apparently never took an ounce of responsibility for what happened to the young teen novice who followed him up that rock, at least not publicly -- and from his reported future reckless actions that involved others, he seems to have come away from the whole experience primarily with a determination not to change even the slightest bit.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Linda Ghilarducci on September 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As a key participant in this event, I am saddened that you would give the book such a bad review based on your desires to be mentioned. You did not give your real name on the review, nor the full name of the person we only knew as "Brutus". To my knowledge, there is no record of you contacting the rangers, nor did any of us who were there meet or talk with you. Mr. Madgic tried very hard to find Renee Miller for several years, unsuccessfully, to get her story.

If you did, in fact, help in any way that night, those of us who were on top thank you for your efforts. It was an intense experience for all of us and, thanks to the years of effort writing this book by Mr. Madgic, it is now recorded in a beautiful, TRUTHFUL, and FACTUAL way.

Again, I am sorry you feel left out after all of these years.

Linda Crozier Ghilarducci (Hoog Party)
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By William Bryant on June 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a participant in the rescue, I think Bob did a wonderful job putting this book together. By the time he interviewed me for the book, he knew far more about the events leading up to the incident than I ever did. When the book finally came out, I was so engrossed in the story that I kind of forgot that I was part of it, and when he got to the actual rescue it was like reliving the experience twenty years later.

As a paramedic, you seldom get to hear about the events leading up to a rescue, and even more rarely find out any details about the peoples lives that were involved, and what happened to them weeks and months later. So thanks Bob for giving me a rare opportunity to learn "the rest of the story".

I am quite sure that anyone with a love of the outdoors will find this a very good read.

Bill Bryant
(the paramedic on the helicopter)
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leon "TarpMan" Nelson on October 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My passion is backpacking and photography. At 70 years of age, I continue to frequently hike and backpack into the wilderness areas of Northern California, as has been my custom for over 58 years!

Now that I've read - and re-read - Madgic's remarkable true and chilling account of the tragedy, that ruinous July night on Half Dome, I shudder as I recall the number of times I actually enjoyed experiencing while backpacking the "wonders" of a full-scale lightning storm from the so-called "security" of my tarp shelter. Thanks to Bob, I now know how foolish it was for me to feel I was "safe-just-because" I'd pitched my tarp - I've not used a tent for over 30 years - in heavily forested locations! From now on, and if possible, I'll heed his advice and leave the area altogether!

Who should read SHATTERED AIR? In this regard, there are three categories to consider.

First, the "Must-Reads:" Anyone who's likely to have, directly or indirectly, an encounter with lightning! SHATTERED AIR should become a required text for all those involved with search and rescue training; ditto for leaders of hiking and backpacking programs - AND for those taking these programs. Similarly, it would make a fine gift for all Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I'm sure you can think of others.

Secondly, the "Thrill-Seekers:" Those who simply like a good action-packed book will not be disappointed with SHATTERED AIR. As a documentary, it's truly amazing how Madgic has organized all the essential elements in his thriller!

Thirdly, the "Literary-World:" Writers will view with awe the remarkable scope of SHATTERED AIR. Madgic's skillful blend of history and geography sets a proper stage for the unfolding of the true and myriad details of his story that reads like a mystery novel.
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