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Climbing Books Reviewed
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Into Thin Air
A Personal Account of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

Format Book Category Narratives
Title Into Thin Air  Pages 293 
Author Jon Krakauer  RRP $21.00 AUD 
Publisher Pan Macmillan  Reviews 11 
Edition Mass Market Paperback  Ave Rating *** (3.00 of 5)

Reviews  

User Comments

Mike
21/06/2002
****
“Into Thin Air”, by Jon Krakauer is a best seller for good reason. It has that page turning dramatic appeal that is perhaps seldom found in true stories. Krakauer manages to describe, from a first hand perspective, what must have been one of the most devastating events in mountaineering history, in such a manner as to add an even greater sense of tension and climax. The reader is left exhausted, lost, bitterly cold and alone in the most remote of wilderness – the death zone of Everest; a place perhaps never meant for the footsteps of man, where even drawing breath takes courage beyond imaging. A heartlessly cruel landscape able puck away life itself at whim, and yet demanding of nothing less than everything, like a vindictive god, randomly rewarding or destroying worshipers and villains alike. Curl up on the couch, put a blanket over yourself and turn up the heating, because you won’t feel warm and safe again until you’ve turned the last page.

“Into Thin Air” offers an account of the 1996 Mt Everest disaster in which 8 climbers died in a single day of bad weather, including Rob Hall, a guide who refuses to leave his dying client and winds up loosing his own life as well. Jon Krakauer, a seasoned climber, though perhaps with less high altitude mountaineering experience than others on the peak that day, ascended to the top of the world as part of a guided expedition. His intended role was as a writer for Outside Magazine. Originally he thought to ascend only to base camp, but after great struggle came to realise a lifetime dream of reaching the summit. Accompanying him were several other far more “amateur” climbers from a number of different guided expeditions. People who had paid a hefty fee to be safely lead up and back down an area of the world so uninhabitable that ordinarily only super fit athletes, with years of appropriate experience, the right genetics and almost inhuman amounts of strength and courage can even hope to navigate successfully. The issue of whether the summit of Everest, or indeed any peak above 26,000 feet can be “guided” in any traditional sense of the word is addressed.

Krakauer explains the difficulty of accurately reporting the facts of the event due to contradictory stories from climbers interviewed, made worse by terrible fatigue under excruciating conditions and oxygen starved brains that could barely handle simple tasks. The tale is revealed to the reader with eloquence, drawing heavily from Krakauer’s recollection of the experience. Take the book for what it is: a fantastically immersive read that captures the harsh realities and hopelessness of facing death many times over whilst struggling for ones own survival high on the peak.

If you’ve watched the Everest IMAX movie (who were filming on Everest at the time) you may have come away thinking mainly about spectacular scenery and the triumph of human endeavour. You may have dropped the remote, leapt from the couch and scaled the nearest hill with enthusiasm. “Into Thin Air” provides a more sobering perspective. The emotional net result is one of fear and trepidation for all such elevated realms. Rather than rushing out to buy a new ice axe, you’ll probably want to shelve your crampons and take up chess instead.

Towards the end of the novel Krakauer does some self analysis, pondering over such things as the accuracy of his original article for Outside magazine, and his role on the peak that day. From my own perspective as a climber who has never stood upon loftier ground than that our own humble little Mt Kosiosko (2228 metres), “Into Thin Air” represents a definite high point in the mountain literature I’ve seen. There may be other views of how events occurred that fateful day back in 96, but Krakauer’s interpretation is certainly believable and makes for a powerful and enjoyable read. 
Anonymous
23/07/2002
*****
I could not add anything further to Mike's review. Krakauer has the knack. This book is a reminder that climbing high mountains is a very real and personal risk. 
Wildtrail
12/08/2002
***
Giving this book only two and a half stars. Krakauer's writing deserves more, but his account of the "truth" is faulty. Fantastic writer, quick to point fingers. Excellent book, for media sensationalism. Gives a moderate account of the tragedy. Important details were left out and things that didn't need to be said weren't. Great book, for the read and the read alone. 
alpinesoloist
28/09/2002
*****
I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. I will say that wildtrail is a little harsh in his assesment of Krakauer. You have to put yourself in his shoes and realize what an emotionally trying time Krakauer himself was going through-trying to find answers to a tragic situation. 
Mad Dog
9/08/2003
*
I'd give this negative 5 stars for honesty and positive 5 stars for writing quality.

I've read just about every word written about the Everest '96 tragedy and once it was clear that Jon was somewhat dishonest in his account, I kept looking for the reason about why he was down on Anatoli. Recently, I picked up Goran Kropp's book and it contained the vital clue. Krakauer had said something about how the sherpas were worried when someone had sex on Everest, but he didn't point the finger. Goran does point the finger, and it was at Anatoli. Goran didn't balme the disaster on Anatoli, though. So that made some things fall into place, like Jon's comment on Salon.com where he said that every single sherpa on the mountain blamed Anatoli on the disaster.

Anyway, ITH is a great drama to read - as long as you don't place too much weight on reading the truth in a documentary. 
Anonymous
14/10/2003
*****
As only a big outdoor and mountain fan, no climber, I was extremely touched by this book. I can't compare Krakauer's story to anyone else's of that day, but what I can say is that I, as a writer myself, think Krakauer was trying to make sense of what happened, was trying to obliterate his own demons, his own lack of action, his own downfalls as a human being. No one person was to blame. No one person was a hero. They all helped climbers in need during that time -- when they were mentally and physically able -- and they might have indirectly contributed to the loss. But it was fate. I think he was only trying to be honest, what any good writer/reporter does. He did not mean any ill will and he did not mean to point fingers. He was trying to make sense of something that didn't make much sense. He was trying to put a grasp on human error --- that man thinks he can outwit Mother Nature when, in reality, he really cannot.
 

sabu
7/02/2005
*****
i loved every sentance in this book. It was so well written, was and an excellent acount of what happened (from Jon's perspective). I guess the acuracy is very subjective and varies from person to person. Either way if you're interested in the 1996 disaster then read this book! 

ShinToe Warrior
4/05/2005
*****
Exellent book. Subjective - Yes. Page Turner - Definately. Whatever Anatoli Bourkreev
may or may not have done to raise the ire of the sherpas , he was a freaking hero to
rescue all those clients who nearly became down-wrapped lumps of frozen meat.
This book shows how easy it is to die on a mountain, and the mind-warping effects that
extreme altitude & cold and oxygen starvation can have on even the most experienced
climbers. 
free Tibet
26/10/2005
*
Very poor booklet,full of intentional lies augmented by the power of media to
present the "autoritative" view of the disaster on Chomolungma ' 96.It's enough
to repeat few times the "manufactured" truth and it's become the "real" truth.Lots of events described in his book in fact never happened except in his coreography.
In comparison, The Climb (G.Weston De Walt/ A.Boukreev) doesn't have that
Rococo style of writing BUT its power comes from the authenticity and right
intentions.Mr.Krakauer should leave that kind of Himalayan writing to much more
competent people with honest intentions as was H.Buhl, Joe Simpson or R.Messner and start writing about those jet-setters
who spoiled completely that sacred mountain.Better for him and for everyone.
I give minus 5 stars,the worst book I' ve ever read on mountaineering.Try to compare 5-6 reports on that disaster and you'll understand my rating. 
dmnz
4/01/2011
***
So so read, overhyped. Good for a rainy day. 

Camalittle
10/03/2011
***
As others have said before me, 5 stars for a ripping page turner, but -2 stars
for stretching and twisting the truth. A good entertaining read, if you like
Dan Brown style novels. 


Further Reading:
Amazon - Details on purchase from Amazon, reviews, etc.
Mostly Fiction - A review from MostlyFiction.com
Book Page - A review from Bookpage.com
Outdoor Lovers - A review from outdoorlovers.com
Two Hikers - A review by Roger Jenkins on twohikers.com
Dymocks - Details on purchasing from Dymocks Books
Adventure Pro Australia - Details on purchasing

 

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