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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Paperback – October 19, 1999
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"This is a great book, among the best ever on mountaineering. Gracefully and efficiently written, carefully researched, and actually lived by its narrator, it shares a similar theme with another sort of book, a novel called "The Great Gatsby." —The Washington Post
"Into Thin Air ranks among the great adventure books of all time." —The Wall Street Journal
"Krakauer is an extremely gifted storyteller as well as a relentlessly honest and even-handed journalist, the story is riveting and wonderfully complex in its own right, and Krakauer makes one excellent decision after another about how to tell it.... To call the book an adventure saga seems not to recognize that it is also a deeply thoughtful and finely wrought philosophical examination of the self." —Elle
"Hypnotic, rattling.... Time collapses as, minute by minute, Krakauer rivetingly and movingly chronicles what ensued, much of which is near agony to read.... A brilliantly told story that won't go begging when the year's literary honors are doled out." —Kirkus Reviews
"Though it comes from the genre named for what it isn't (nonfiction), this has the feel of literature: Krakauer is Ishmael, the narrator who lives to tell the story but is forever trapped within it.... Krakauer's reporting is steady but ferocious. The clink of ice in a glass, a poem of winter snow, will never sound the same." —Mirabella
"Into Thin Air is a remarkable work of reportage and self-examination.... And no book on the 1996 disaster is likely to consider so honestly the mistakes that killed his colleagues." —Newsday
"A harrowing tale of the perils of high-altitude climbing, a story of bad luck and worse judgment and of heartbreaking heroism." —People
"In this movingly written book, Krakauer describes an experience of such bone-chilling horror as to persuade even the most fanatical alpinists to seek sanctuary at sea level." —Sports Illustrated
From the Inside Flap
By writing 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.
This updated trade paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds fascinating light on the acrimonious debate that flared between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy. "I have no doubt that Boukreev's intentions were good on summit day," writes Krakauer in the postscript, dated August 1999. "What disturbs me, though, was Boukreev's refusal to acknowledge the possibility that he made even a single poor decision. Never did he indicate that perhaps it wasn't the best choice to climb without gas or go down ahead of his clients." As usual, Krakauer supports his points with dogged research and a good dose of humility. But rather than continue the heated discourse that has raged since Into Thin Air's denouncement of guide Boukreev, Krakauer's tone is conciliatory; he points most of his criticism at G. Weston De Walt, who coauthored The Climb, Boukreev's version of events. And in a touching conclusion, Krakauer recounts his last conversation with the late Boukreev, in which the two weathered climbers agreed to disagree about certain points. Krakauer had great hopes to patch things up with Boukreev, but the Russian later died in an avalanche on another Himalayan peak, Annapurna I.
In 1999, Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters--a prestigious prize intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment." According to the Academy's citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (October 19, 1999)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 332 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385494785
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385494786
- Lexile measure : 1320L
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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However, I must note that the book itself - or rather, the Outlook article which was responsible for Krakauer's presence on this expedition in the first place - is the real reason so many people died on the mountain that day. Had the expedition leaders not been competing for the attention of Outlook readers, this probably would not have happened; they were seasoned veterans of the mountain and would not, I am sure, made such an elementary mistake as not turning back by the agreed hour. This proved fatal for several people. Krakauer, to his eternal shame, tried to blame this debacle on the other group's Russian guide. Who, as he admits, went out in a blizzard on his own to save his clients and brought them down single-handed. And showed a lot more empathy than Krakauer himself.
That said, I have read no book on mountaineering that better describes the emotions and physical sensations of being in this punishing environment. f you want a powerful 'Rashomon' tale for our times, read this book in tandem with Anatoli Boukreev's /Weston DeWalt's The Climb. They depict the same story but with a very different perspective, and the story itself never gets anything less than fascinating.
Wish i hadnt gotten his book and wonder why anyone in their right mind would think Krakauer is any more believable than others.
Krakauer saved 0, Anatoli saved 3.
Math is math, numbers dont lie. People do.
However, I rated this as three star simply because I feel the author is condescending and snobby. Yes, he climbed the mountain and very few people will ever even see it, much less climb it.
But I just walked away thinking he thinks he’s better than everyone else. Now that the adventure is over, i understand it might be difficult to get back to normal life, but I just didn’t think he was someone I’d care to talk to at a party.
Top reviews from other countries
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.
Debate still rages about some differences in subsequent accounts of events that day. Particularly, the part Anatoli Boukreev (Fischer's chief guide) played in helping/hindering the unfolding situation. Krakauer offers some fairly mild criticism regarding Boukreev's decision to ascend without supplementary oxygen, suggesting his guiding performance would have been greatly enhanced with it; Boukreev, for instance, may not have felt the need to descend so urgently, ahead of the clients behind him.
It is somewhat damning criticism, I guess, however carefully phrased. And it does rather heap a lot of guilt on one man. A man who did, in the end, rescue 3 clients single-handed. Perhaps Krakauer could have left these sort of judgements to the reader, because the facts themselves, as Krakauer has documented, have not been substantively challenged.
The emphasis though, correctly, in my opinion, remains on the botched organisation and questionable decision-making of the two expedition leaders, Hall and Fischer. And, in fairness, Krakauer even goes on to acknowledge his own impact as client/journalist as another detrimental factor: the press coverage a massive incentive for Hall and Fischer to take risks to succeed.
It's a shame about the bitter, back-biting aftermath. Krakauer himself not immune to it - calling the film version, 'total bull'. Objecting, principally, to the scene where Krakauer refuses to assist Boukreev in the rescue effort due to exhaustion and snow-blindness. Krakauer claims it never happened.
Understandably, a raw and damaging experience to process for all those who survived - a crazy, ego bound, foolhardy quest, in the first place? Whatever your view, Krakauer's account is utterly compelling, demanding much pause for thought.