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."
Facing the world's second-highest peak, the Karakoram Range's K2 in Northern Pakistan, mountain climbers encounter incredible dangers, including a huge serac (an overhanging glacier), snow-obscured crevasses, whiteouts and avalanches that have killed even accomplished mountaineers. With clarity and compassion, renowned peak-scaler Viesturs recounts campaigns up K2's 28,000-plus feet from the late 1930s through the tragic 2008 season that saw 11 climbers die in the space of 36 hours. An American master of the climb, Viesturs shares secrets, inside jokes, history and lore such as the "psychological protection" afforded by clipping onto rope or handrails, the climbers' habit of "looking up to see if anything's coming your way," and the "miracle" of "one man with a single ax and a grip of steel stopping the otherwise fatal fall of six teammates and of himself." Admitting to "a disturbing fanaticism" that's driven himself and others to tackle the world's fourteen 8000-foot-plus peaks, Viesturs's you-are-there narration communicates effortlessly the enormous effort, and high adventure, of scaling K2.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I deeply enjoyed this - my first Krakauer read. He enthralled me in all things Everest. I have to say, I’m surprised he denounced the movie adaptation to such a degree. Of course even the book would leave out important nuances only felt by those who were present for the event, the movie seemed to stick quite closely to the information provided. It did paint Jon himself in a bit of a silly light, and took some liberties definitely: everything with Beck’s wife, the total elimination of the sherpas that Jon repeatedly stressed were of the utmost importance to every expedition, the fake conversation between Boukreev and Jon about going into the storm to try and help people... I do really wish they’d included the sherpas more, and some of the history of the mountain, how it’s affected by its location in Nepal and China, and especially the damaging impacts of high-altitude on their thought process. So many “poor” decisions were made on the mountain, but they weren’t made in lucid thought... the movie really failed to drive that home.
I look forward to reading more by Krakauer but I can only imagine that this book is his most vivid, as it all seems like the singular most vivid experience of his life. Spooky, captivating, inspiring in parts, but ultimately leaves you feeling a little confounded... even with so many step-by-step accounts, one has to wonder... how did it all go so bad?
My belated condolences to all victims and their families, and to the survivors still living under the weight of such heavy memories.
I watched Everest the movie and I had to read the book. There is nothing profound about my review, I enjoyed the book. P.s. I am going on my first scramble this summer in the Canadian Rockies. Wish me luck
Personally I found this book hard to get into, but once I did I couldn't put it down - you're in for a very thrilling read that makes you reflect on the world around you