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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Paperback – October 19, 1999
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"Intrinsically irrational" is how Jon Krakauer characterizes the compulsion to climb Mount Everest in his audiobook Into Thin Air. The highly publicized fates of the May 1996 Everest expeditions, including the tragic loss of 12 lives, seem to bear out Krakauer's statement. Listening to Krakauer read his own account of the events in this unabridged version adds a uniquely intimate and thought-provoking dimension to the tragedy. Although Krakauer reads his account with journalistic professionalism, it's impossible to forget that you are listening to someone unburdening himself of a great weight, an unburdening that sometimes nearly approaches a confession.
Since the 1980s, more and more "marginally qualified dreamers" have attempted the ascent of Everest, as guided commercial expeditions have dangled the possibility of reaching the roof of the world in front of anyone wealthy enough to pay for the privilege. In 1996, Outside magazine asked Krakauer, a frequent contributor, to write a piece on the commercialization of Everest, and Krakauer signed on as a member of New Zealander Rob Hall's expedition. The disastrous outcome of the 1996 expedition forced Krakauer to write a very different article.
Those who read Krakauer's book may wonder whether the audiobook can possibly shed more light on the unfortunate events. It does. Krakauer's chronicle is chilling and horrifying. He recounts with excruciating detail the physical and mental cost of such a climb. Even under the best of circumstances, each step up the ice-clad mountain is monumentally exhausting, and the oxygen-deprived brain loses the ability to make reliable judgements. And on May 10, 1996, when Hall's expedition and several others made their summit assault, the conditions were far from ideal. The mountain was so "crowded" that climbers had to wait their turn near the summit while their bottled oxygen dwindled by the minute. By afternoon a blinding hurricane-force storm had stranded a number of climbers on the highest, most exposed reaches of the mountain.
By writing and reading Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself. (Running time: 467 minutes; six tapes) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
Heroism and sacrifice triumph over foolishness, fatal error, and human frailty in this bone-chilling narrative in which the author recounts his experiences on last year's ill-fated, deadly climb. Thrilling armchair reading.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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To have gone through what he had, being a journalist and not a mountaineer as they say, one can only imagine - there has to be a lot of pain in his heart about seeing people he went up with only to watch 10 of them I think it was? die, And at one point - (Im terrible with the names) there was a part where he sees who he thinks is Andy Harris but turns out to actually be another man who survived and it brought him a tremendous amount of pain that he originally thought the man was alive and in a camp, his significant other called only to have to call them back the next day to tell her that he was in fact dead. Again, the book was a HUGE undertaking for me as far as keeping everyone's names straight so I might be confusing that one point - I just know that Krakauer seemed to be emotionally terribly distraught by a lot of the events that happened. To debate this Boukreev using oxygen I think is pointless - what happened happened - to me, anyone who climbs mountains for a living or for sport I admire, I suppose, but I also think YOU ARE CRAZY LOL - (said as light heartedly as I can) my goodness, what possesses people to want to do this? It has to be a calling a true inner calling that I can just not fathom. It sounds like an awful lot of pain for a little gain but hey, the same can be said for life in general.
I admire Krakauer and enjoyed the book thouroughly. I did not read the Climb and probably never will - one mountain book for me is enough. It was enthralling but scared me to a degree. Again, I cannot imagine the pain of being that cold and without oxygen, being asthmatic, and thinking back to my oxygen depleted youth NOTHING hurts worse than not being able to breathe so climbing any mountains for me is OUT OF the question, especially after reading this book WOW is all I have to say!!!
And for anyone a part of the 1996 climb who is still alive - give yourself a break, you too, Krakauer, what you did was fine and I see no reason for you to feel guilty - let go of those negative feelings - at one point in the book a Sherpa gets hit in the back of the head with a stone several times and turns to tell Krakauer, WHAT have we done to make the mountain Gods so angry???
That part more than any other made me think....what INDEED????
While "Into Thin Air" at times feels like a slightly padded and stretched version of the magazine article Krakauer initially wrote, in general the story moves quickly and is compellingly told. Krakauer has, in my view, been reasonably scrupulous in seeking a range of views and recollections and relatively honest about his own perceived shortcomings - he is also candid about the difficulties involved in piecing together an accurate picture from the recollections of cold, tired, frightened and oxygen-deprived people in stress - or of in being overly critical of their decisions with 20/20 hindsight. While one would have to read a work from an opposing viewpoint such as The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest to form a definitive opinion of the actions of Andrei Boukreev, for example, Krakauer's criticism of Boukreev's actions before the disaster appears measured and objective (and gives space to opposing interpretations) while acknowledging his heroic and superhuman rescue efforts during the storm. Some of the one-star reviews attacking Krakauer on this front appear a bit unreasonable and unwilling to consider that Boukreev's heroism doesn't rule out inadequate planning or cooperation beforehand.
The most disappointing aspect of "Into Thin Air" is the authors tendency to conflate relatively trivial virtues (being an amusing dinner companion, having agreeable political views, or being able to climb a mountain well) with more fundamental human virtues - which seems to be a fairly common trait in works of this nature. If you are a better climber and a more entertaining companion than the next guy/girl on the rope, then you are a better person and that's it. As a consequence, he comes across as relatively shallow and banal, and never really engages with some of the more fundamental moral questions posed by events on Everest that climbing season, when a number of climbers in distress were either ignored, given insufficient help or pushed beyond their limits in order not to compromise what is, ultimately, a fairly empty achievement to let somebody die for. While no particularly profound thinker himself, Joe Simpson does a far better job of challenging this mental climate in Dark Shadows Falling.
Somewhere between three and a half and four stars (I marked it down to three only because there are so many 4/5 star reviews posted already). Certainly far more interesting and memorable than the authors Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains, which also seems interested in trivial personal qualities at the expense of more important ones.