Into Thin Air
A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisastereBook - 1998
A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.
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 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."
From the critics
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Into Thin Air, written by Jon Krakauer, is a great read. Ever since he was a child, Krakauer was fascinated with exploration and discovery, so when a magazine company provided him with a fully funded Mt. Everest expedition, he knew his life would change forever. This book is his firsthand description of the events that took place on that expedition. Out of 10, I would rate this book as an 8. Krakauer's storytelling throughout the text is gripping, and I couldn't wait to see what happened on the next page. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.
The summer after my senior year I went on an amazing trip to Colorado called Summer Field Studies. This was a trip that gathered students from area high schools--there were over 150 of us, I believe--and we trucked out West to camp, hike, rock climb, mountaineer, and even do some science in the field. It was an incredible experience that was capped off with a group of us summitting Long's Peak, the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trip was the inspiration for me seeking out Into Thin Air.
Into Thin Air follows the disastrous 1996 expedition up Mt. Everest. This is not giving anything away, as I believe this is even written on the front cover! Author Jon Krakauer actually was on this trip, so his first hand knowledge adds needed authenticity and excitement. It is gripping! Such a terrible thing to have happened--at least six climbers perish--but Krakauer sheds needed light on the perils of having guided climbs filled with inexperienced climbers up the world's tallest mountain.
Into Thin Air is a novel about a real adventure and the story is told from the point of view of a witness Jon Krakauer, a journalist who is one of the climbers to reach the summit in 1996.
This modern classic of the adventure genre is a first-hand narrative of the storm atop Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, which led to the death of eight people in May of 1996. Written only months after it happened, Outside magazine journalist and dedicated mountain climber Jon Krakauer relates the tragic journey to the summit of Everest, led by celebrated guide Rob Hall with granite-like resolve. To provide context, Krakauer evokes the storied history of climbing on Everest and the dangerous yet immensely rewarding art of mountain climbing in general. This Pulitzer Prize finalist is filled with gritty power and clear eloquence: it is an account of both grandeur and loss.
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Rob and I had talked about the impossibility of being rescued from the summit ridge. As he himself had put it, 'You might as well be on the moon.'" - Chapter 17
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