I first read "Into Thin Air" right after it was first published five years ago. It haunted me at the time, and it continues to do so today. By now, the story has been told so many times and by so many different people that it hard to remember that Krakauer's original account is the one that made it famous to begin with. Were it not for his incredible abilities as a storyteller, it is doubtful that anyone outside the world of mountaineering would remember what happened at the peak of Everest in that fateful May of 1996.
Krakauer's account is so compelling because it reads like a book length confession, which it is in a sense. The author worked through his very considerable feelings of survivor's guilt in the book's pages. His descriptions and not inconsiderable opinions have become legendary. For example, how many people read of AOL Chairman Robert Pittman's recent outster from the company and remembered him as the husband of Sandra Hill Pittman, who personified the rich amature climber who buys their way to the top of the world's tallest peak and who has no business being there? Krakauer's descriptions of Mrs. Pittman on the mountain are an example of his simple but devastating observations.
Krakauer's highly readable prose make the book read like fiction, probably another reason why it was so popular. He signed on for the Everest climb intending to write a standard mountaineering magazine article. That he chose the fateful May 1996 climb is simply a rare case of someone being at the wrong place at precisely the right time. Though it caused him plenty of personal torment, it also allowed him to write a story for the ages.
Overall, "Into Thin Air" fantastic storytelling make it one of the best non-fiction books published in the last decade or so.
Even if you already know the story of the deadly Mt. Everest expeditions of 1996, you will appreciate Jon Krakauer's own first person account of the Adventure Consultants and the Mountain Madness groups. Both of these expeditions were led by well-seasoned Everest climbers---Rob Hall from New Zealand and Scott Fischer from the States--and had the aid of expert guides, Sherpas from Nepal and "outsiders". But we soon find that even these experienced people are not immune from the human frailties of greed, denial and self-serving. Those Achilles' heels will cause both expeditions to completely fall apart. At the same time, human error combined with the unforgiving terrors of high altitude climbing sets the scene for heroism in many of the climbers and crew.
Krakauer, a journalist who signed on with Hall's expedition to do a story for Outside magazine, doesn't disappoint as weaver of a tale. I took the book everywhere with me while reading it, always eager to find out what would happen next.
If a book that explores deftly our desire to reach an unreachable summit appeals to you....especially when that book does not shy away from the tragedy caused when the desire to reach it undoes common sense and humanity....I highly recommend "Into Thin Air."
on November 20, 2007
By and large, the negative reviews posted here have little to do with the quality of this book and almost everything to do with the presumed character of the writer, Jon Krakauer. Similarly, those who dislike Krakauer's Into the Wild tend to focus their judgment of the book's worth on their own feelings regarding the essay's subject, Christopher McCandless, the young man who traveled the Western United States and Mexico for two years before perishing in Alaska. I read Krakauer differently. I am not interested in Krakauer's liberal politics, his emotional instability, and variable maturity. I am not interested in whether he portrays the absolute truth in his account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster for the simple fact that I don't believe the truth can be told. Writing is a very poor substitute for a frostbitten finger or a hypoxic head. All we have is Krakauer's writing, so let's look at what he does as a writer.
Krakauer is a sensationalist journalist, and since he reports on dangerous and near-death experiences regularly, he really can't help being grandiose and spectacular. The subject of his writing demands that he ratchet up the emotional power of his style and word choice. And let's be honest--don't we, as readers, demand it of him as well? Don't we want a voyeuristic and graphic account, where the size, the shape, and the smell of death seem to lift from the pages? Who wants to read about a mountain climbing disaster sans the emotion and the ego it takes to put one's self unnecessarily into such perilous situations?
Perhaps some readers want a quiet truth about what happened on the mountain, but this is to ask the impossible since every climber is guaranteed to have a different story and different perceptions of similar experiences--none of which are altogether true and none of which are altogether lies. And when he/she goes to tell about it, pieces of reality will inevitably be missed and left forgotten on the mountain. Emotions will well up and color an event with bias. Egos will peek from behind a boulder and whisper truths and nonsense.
No writer can make sense of all of that, but Krakauer has tried, and largely succeeded, to give the reader an idea of what it was like on Mt. Everest in late spring 1996. He may or may not have retraced every path exactly, but he acts as a good guide. He welcomes the reader to disagree with him and simultaneously makes a bold and convincing case. He admits a myriad of his own mistakes and points out the mistakes of others. I'm impressed mostly with the balanced feel of his account. For example, much is made of Krakauer's portrayal of Anatoli Boukreev's actions on the mountain. Those who read Krakauer as blaming Boukreev for the deaths of some climbers must not have closely read the many times Krakauer praises Boukreev's numerous heroic actions. By telling of both the shameful and heroic actions of Boukreev--all told from Krakauer's self-admitted hypoxic state--I find that Krakauer achieves a kind of truth about both Boukreev and himself.
In the end, for me, the book is about how truth changes states: It's solid and reliable when you start to climb Mt. Everest. And then you climb too high, and the truth becomes slippery and liquid; you're not quite sure and you're not quite in doubt. And then sometimes, the truth changes to a gas, a gyre of contradictions--the terrible beauty of chaos, which you'll never completely remember or entirely forget.
on August 18, 1997
Having never understood why people climb mountains, and after seeing Beck Weathers on
television last year, I bought INTO THIN AIR in order to gain more insight. Krakauer delivered.
Have some time on your hands, because once you begin reading Jon's story depicting the turn of
events throughout his journey on Everest in the Spring of '96, you won't be able to stop reading until you've read the last word in his book. This account of summitting Everest is a page turner even though the outcome is old news. It will leave you wanting to know more about other attempts made
on Everest, both failed and successful.
For those who don't understand why on earth anyone would want to do something as dangerous as
climbing "Into Thin Air" on rock and ice ... this book answers that curiosity. Because Jon introduces his readers to the backgrounds and personalities of the main characters in his book, we can better comprehend the different reasons people spend thousands of dollars and two or more months of their lives in "hell" on a mountain - freezing and injured - 'just to get to the top'. We learn through Krakauer why they continue their ascent even though the conditions are pure torture and more life threatening with each step; why they don't give it up once they've lost feeling in their extremities, separated their ribs, lost their vision, can no longer breathe due to oxygen depleted air, why they don't turn back even when they see the dead who've attempted to reach the summit on prior expeditions. You'll understand because of Krakauer's talent as a writer ... his ability to replay his emotions, his thoughts, his experiences, and his opinions through writing.
You'll feel the frigid wind, the snow, the ice, the pain, the desperation, the sorrow, the regrets. The "if only's" will torture your soul just as they have and continue to torture Jon's.
He writes in such a way you will have no choice other than to join him on that mountain. You'll meet and get to know the members and guides of Rob Hall's team as well as Scott Fischer, his guides,
and some of his team members whom you will respect even though you may not like. Unfortunately,
not everyone on the mountain was a "good guy" ... you'll be livid thanks to the danger the teams
encounter due to the inexperience, egos, arrogance, and ruthlessness of the few "bad apples".
For the survivors, Jon's book is an avenue in which fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and other loved ones are portrayed as the heroes they were. Although some of the deceased's relatives were upset with Krakauer, it will seem unjust because of the respectful way in which he depicts his fellow mountaineers and the Sherpas.
on August 7, 2000
I found Into Thin Air, as well as Krakauer's excellent Into the Wild, to be two of the most gripping, emotional, unforgettable reads of my life. Into Thin Air tells a fascinating story of hardship, tragedy, heroism and perhaps lack of respect for nature, and unlike virtually all books of the genre the author was there, suffering through the storm and watching his comrades fall. Sebastian Junger, in his compelling book The Perfect Storm, pieced together information to try and imagine what it was like on the Andrea Gail out in the North Atlantic. Krakauer was actually on the summit of Everest in May 1996, and he takes the reader on one helluva ride.
Most of you who have gotten this far in the reviews knows the basic premise. Krakauer was sent to Everest by Outside magazine to join New Zealand guide Ron Hall's expeedition in the spring of 1996. He was there to write an expose about how anyone who is reasonably in shape, has some (and not a lot) of climbing experience, and who can fork over more than $60,000 could be taken to the summit of Everest while Sherpas and yaks carried most of your supplies, cooked your meals, and carried you when you collapsed. One climber even brought an espresso machine. He also wanted to comment on how Everest has become a virtual junk yard, with empty oxygen cannisters strewn all over the face of the mountain.
What he found changed his life forever. Krakauer was caught up in a deadly storm, that appeared virtually "out of thin air", leaving members of his and other teams stranded on the summit and on Hillary Step (a ledge just below the summit) with little chance of making it down. The story is gripping, suspenseful and ultimately deeply moving. The reader may think humans, especially those with pregnant wives at home, have no business at the summit of Everest, but you cannot help being deeply moved as you read about Rob Hall talking to his wife on the other side of the world, via satellite phone, to discuss the name of their unborn child while Hall is stranded on the mountain. The book kept me up nights as few others ever have.
A point about the "feud" with Anatoli Boukreev is worth mentioning, since, in my opinion, this has been blown out of proportion by others. Krakauer recognizes that each climber has his own way of doing things, but he took some shots at the Mountain Madness expedition led by Scott Fischer, and at his guide Boukreev in particular, for climbing without supplemental oxygen and for descending ahead of the group's clients. I think he made some good points there. Boukreev was no doubt a great climber, and his death in an avalanche the next year makes the whole debate a little pointless, but I think a client if I were to fork over $60,000 I have the right to expect that the guide will be out on the mountain with me as I descend, not warming up in the hut drinking tea. Boukreev is credited by Krakauer with a heroic trip back up the mountain during a blizzard to reach Fischer, and he may have been told earlier by Fischer to descend (we'll never know for sure), but those tactics are surely open to debate. Some reviewers here on Amazon have taken personal shots at Krakauer's actions during the storm, but he was no paid guide, and he rightfully takes some blame himself in his book for abandoning Beck Weathers and for giving some false info to the family of one of his guides, Andy Harris that added to the confusion in those first days of the incident.
In any event, if you want to get caught up in the whole Krakauer v. Boukreev debate, be my guest - you can read both of their accounts of what happened on that fateful trip. For my money, Krakauer's account is the definitive, well-written story, which should at the very least be used as a starting point for anyone interested in the 1996 Everest tragedy. And for most people (like myself) with little or no interest in climbing, read Into Thin Air on its own as a gripping, unforgettable account of a very public tragedy which you will not soon forget.
Jon Krakauer takes you for a front seat ride up the deadly slopes of Mount Everest, during the notoriously deadly expedition of May 1996. Barely escaping the mountain with his own life, journalist Krakauer remembers the team members and friends left on the mountain. Four out of eleven members died on the fatal mountain.
Inch by weary inch, step by shivering step, Krakauer takes us on his journey up Everest and introduces us to the members of his team. This book is so well written that you can feel the oxygen depravation and the cold, and are left feeling the personal loss of lives you come to know and care about as fully fleshed out people.
He brings to life the real concerns of guided ascents up Everest, the use of oxygen by guides, the inexperience of people who pay mega-bucks to be escorted to the world's highest peak, the state of mind that thin air brings to the human mind, and the accomplishments and follies of those who attempt such an extra-ordinary feat.
The book includes a map, eight pages of glossy black and white photos, some dark pictures leading into every chapter, blurbs from different publications that lead each chapter, a bibliography, and an extensive postscript answering some outstanding issues that arose in DeWalt's account of the same ascent called 'The Climb'.
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time. The story is compelling and the telling is honest. Krakauer speaks of his survival guilt with open poignancy and candor. He passes over his own hardships and applauds the heroism of those who helped to save many of the stranded members of the climbing parties. He reports on bottlenecks high up on the mountain, particularly on the Hillary Step, that cause costly delays and could mean the difference between life and death at such altitudes. If you're looking for an exciting, heart pounding non-fiction read then look no further. I highly recommend this book. Enjoy!
on February 6, 2000
Jon Krakauer's narrative of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest is excellently written and extremely engrossing. Although the events are true, the book reads like a top action/adventure thriller, keeping us turning pages until the end. This is definitely a first-person account, though, and Krakauer makes sure the attention is centered on him, as he alternately extolls his virtues and reveals his faults. I felt extremely saddened when reading this book and I think we must look closely at how and why this tragedy happened. I cannot help but fault, in part, the two guides, Hall and Fischer. Both were experienced climbers and both had previously been on Everest. As guides, these men were running a business for profit and were desirous of satisfied customers--that meant making the summit. But these two men had also accepted the responsibility of caring for their clients' safety, as well as for the safety of those in expeditions not their own. The fact that they ignored self-imposed turn-around times simply cannot be forgiven. Ultimately, however, each person must take responsibility for his or her own actions. Technically, Everest is an easy climb, but the physical demands are enormous. The bulk of climbers were untrained, unfamiliar with their equipment, and simply not in the top physical condition needed to withstand the rigors of high-altitude climbing, a fact of which they certainly must have been aware. And if they weren't, then certainly Hall and Fischer were. Many of the previous reviewers have faulted the climbers for turning their backs on Beck Wethers and Yasuko Namba, but once you have actually engaged in high-altitude climbing, as I have done, you know Everest is not the place to become your brother's keeper. No one should have died and had Hall and Fischer turned around, as they should have, in all probability no one would have. Into Thin Air is a fascinating tale and one that poses many thought-provoking questions each man and woman must answer, not only on Everest, but in the course of his or her day-to-day life.
on July 21, 2008
I remember the spring of 1996 and the Everest disasters very well. I was stuck in traffic when a writer named Jon Krakauer was briefly interviewed on NPR when he first returned as one of the survivors of a deadly climb. I had never given mountaineering or Everest much thought but the drama, and especially Krakauer's traumatized voice, inspired a curiosity I've only now actually pursued by reading this book.
If you have ever been at a popular tourist spot when several buses pulled up and disgorged different tours, you have the picture of what mountaineering on Everest had become by 1996. The golden era of exploration and mountaineering on Everest was over. Commercial expeditions charging $65,000 a head would take up clients who could pay, not necessarily those who were vetted mountaineers. Base Camp was a cross between a vanity fair and a scout jubilee. Krakauer, a practiced climber who was commissioned by Outside Magazine to write about the experience, had signed on with an ethical and highly skilled outfit. There was, to the climbers, little warning that anything could go wrong. Across the next several weeks, the climbers moved slowly up the mountain, becoming acclimated. Perhaps the first clue of the reality of Everest was encountering dead bodies from previous years that had simply been left behind. The 1996 groups kept going. The ravages of altitude sickness, the increasing consumption of oxygen canisters, and the physical punishment should have been more flags. The day scheduled for achieving the summit became a train wreck of bad choices, rejection of basic guidelines such as turn around times, altitude sickness, and the surprise of a subzero storm that suddenly grabbed the top of the world with hurricane force. The scramble for survival meant, in some cases, abandoning people for dead on the mountain, people who had become comrades on the ropes. Krakauer documents incredible stories of heroism and survival, as well as the death toll and permanent physical injuries incurred by some.
Krakauer is an astonishing writer who does a good job of sorting out a confusing series of events. Realizing the limitations of one person's memory in the midst of a traumatic experience that has bequeathed a sense of guilt, he went back and interviewed other survivors to get at the truth. Although he never imposes overarching themes on the narrative, his story illustrates classic conflicts as humans are seen tempting mortality on the grandest scale on earth. The more they push their human capacities, the more the mountain seems determined to push the climbers down into their very flawed human place. In the end, this is not so much a tour of a mountain as it is an exploration of humanity. There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks pointing fingers at those who survived, and some are pointed weakly at Krakauer, but I found this to be very evenly handled.
on July 16, 2008
In May 1996, a rogue storm killed nine climbers on Mount Everest, several of them from an expedition led by Rob Hall of New Zealand, the others from an expedition led by American Scott Fischer. Hall and Fischer were themselves counted among the victims. One of the survivors from Hall's expedition was John Krakauer, a writer from Outside Magazine, who had volunteered to go on the expedition to research and write a story on the commercialization of Everest.
Krakauer was no inexperienced novice, having been a climber for over 30 years at the time of the expedition, and that is part of what makes his telling of the story particularly compelling. He had the background and personal experience necessary to write the story in a way that someone who had never climbed a mountain could not. And he was there when the disaster happened, observing with a writer's eye for details.
I have never had any desire to climb a mountain, nor any real knowledge of mountain climbing, despite living near some of the most-climbed peaks in the Pacific Northwest - Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. I didn't pay much attention to the Everest disaster at the time, and all I remembered hearing before reading Krakauer's book was that some guy was able to call his wife on the phone from the top of Everest right before he died. Perhaps it was my recent unexplained interest in disaster stories that led me to Into Thin Air a few weeks ago, twelve years after the Everest disaster.
In the author's note at the end of the book, Krakauer writes, "My intent ... was to tell what happened on the mountain as accurately and honestly as possible, and to do it in a sensitive and respectful manner." Krakauer succeeds in this admirably. There are no "bad guys" in this book, just real human beings who did the best they could in unexpected and calamitous circumstances. The book is not about blame, but about understanding what happened.
Albeit through Krakauer's eyes, we get to know many of the climbers from Hall's and Fischer's expeditions as they prepare to ascend the mountain: a postal worker making his second attempt at Everest, an attorney who had climbed six of the Seven Summits, a pathologist, a publisher who had attempted Everest three times, an anesthesiologist, a cardiologist, a 47-year old Japanese woman, a female "millionaire socialite-cum-climber," among others. Most of the climbers had had at least some high-altitude climbing experience. We also get to know the leaders and guides for both expeditions, most of whom were very experienced climbers. These were expeditions that should have succeeded.
The immediacy of Krakauer's writing, as he relives every day, every hour, and sometimes every minute of the experience, conveys the hard work involved in climbing to the peak of Everest and the desire that drove the climbers on, until a sudden turn in the weather left them struggling to stay alive in a hostile environment where they only had themselves to depend upon.
No one seemed aware of the approaching storm. Some bad decisions were made. Mistakes and more bad decisions were made by men and women weakened both physically and mentally by the elements. In the end, some of the most experienced people failed to survive, while other less experienced people miraculously did.
This is a true and tragic story that's not easily forgotten, especially by Krakauer, who ends his introduction to the book by confessing, "I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time." This is a story Krakauer had to tell in the way that only he could, and I for one am glad he shared it with us.
on July 2, 2001
This the first book I've read about the Mount Everest disaster in May 1996. Jon Krakauer was paid by Outside magazine to join a guide assisted expedition to the summit of Mount Everest lead by renowned guide Rob Hall with his assistant Doug Harris. But once Jon and the rest of the gang get past Camp 4 and head up the south col, the balcony and then the summit, it's literally downhill from there. He'll lead you step by step through his journey up the mountain, describing every pertinent event he witnessed or was told afterwards through interviews with survivors.
To me, Krakauer comes across as honest without being too cocky. Sure, he's an experienced mountain climber who was in better shape and more qualified for the climb than some of the other clients, but he certainly doesn't "trash" his fellow climbers with nothing but negativity. I think he made an honest attempt tell both sides of the story. For example, he gave Beck Weathers his props when he realized the incredible effort he was exerting.
And the other issue was how he "blamed" Anatoli Boukerev for the disastrous outcome of the expedition. Well, if some people actually read the book, he clearly puts the blame on many people, including himself. Sure Boukerev was foolish to be working as a guide without using oxygen, but Krakauer could have stopped a clearly exhausted and oxygen deprived Doug Harris from continuing up the mountain. He could have also convinced Beck Weathers to descend with him instead of leaving him to wait for Doug Harris, who never returned, leaving Beck stranded with a group of other climbers and eventually left for dead. You can tell that Krakauer feels much blame for much of the tragedy that occured.
Other "reveiwers" say Krakauer took advantage of the tragedy by "cashing in" by writing the book. Well, the guy is a writer, after all folks, and he has to make a living somehow, doesn't he? He has also donated a portion of his profits to charities, which should quiet those critics.
From what I could tell, it was an unfortunate accident that didn't have to happen if so many people didn't try to "summit" at the same time. Also, it would have helped if the guides actually stuck to their pre-determined turnaround time like they swore they would. But up there at 29000 feet, where the oxygen is 1/4 of sea level and your mind is reduced to a 6 year old, and you have climbers with bigger egos than the mountain itself, it's a wonder that more people don't return alive. Alas, like he states, "Climbing Everest is an extremely irrational action". Indeed.
Overall, this is an extremely well written book that should be read by sports and adventure seeking readers for years to come. It's an incredibly story that had to be told.