“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer
In 1996, Jon Krakauer (perhaps best known as “the dude who wrote ‘Into the Wild,” which is the book that Sean Penn-directed movie was based on”) was climbing Mount Everest. He survived, but eight other people who were attempting the climb at the same time as Krakauer didn’t, due to an unexpected storm that came from nowhere.
At the time, Krakauer was covering the climb for an article in Outside magazine. After the tragedy, he wrote the article, but the events still bugged him – so he turned the whole thing into a book to get it off his chest and to make some sort of peace with everything.
The book that resulted was “Into Thin Air,” and it’s enough to keep me from climbing Everest, I’ll tell you that much. (Not that I was seriously planning on it. Me? Mountain-climb? Whatever.)
Krakauer explains it all – from the difficulties of breathing the air at 20,000+ feet to the politics behind climbing and how exactly one gets themselves even booked to attempt an Everest climb. For a novice like me, this was interesting – I always just assumed people walked up to the mountain, tied a rope to something, and started climbing, but apparently it’s much more complex and filled with permits and passports and guides and a native group known as the Sherpa without whom, regardless of cash, you’re basically not getting up the hill.
I was a huge fan of “Into the Wild,” and I’m also a big fan of Krakauer’s exposing the lies and false claims of “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson, and I found “Into thin air” to be as honest and candid as the other two pieces – Perhaps even moreso, as Krakauer himself is the central figure of the book. He’s honest about the guilt he feels being alive while climbers on the same mountain are dying and in distress, which is completely understandable. Many of the other participants in the events are introduced, and shown in both good and bad lights – as people tend to do in stressful, life-threatening situations. From a man who’s vision starts to go bad the further he gets up the hill, to the tragic story of a Japanese woman attempting to become only the second in history to reach the top of all Seven Summits, these are people whose stories make for good reading.
In a really interesting appendix to the book, Krakauer takes on Russian climber and guide of one of the ill-fated expeditions, Antoli Boukreev. Boukreev was apparently so offended by the original publication of “Into Thin Air” that he wrote his own book, “The Climb,” which is basically a rebuttal of Krakauer’s text.
“Into Thin Air” is a really interesting piece. I know nothing whatsoever about climbing, and I was hooked.