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Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer. Gripping personal story of the 1996 Mt. Everest ascent which resulted in several deaths.

Review by Phil Stripling

Jon Krakauer is the author of three books and contributes articles to several magazines. He participated in an attempt to climb Mt Everest in early May 1996 as an author for Outside magazine. His guide, Rob Hall, had given a discount from the usual price in exchange for advertising in the magazine. Mr. Krakauer has several conflicting interests in this book: he was a participant in an ascent guided by a commercial guide who expected to have the expedition written about in Outside magazine; he is concerned that the need perceived by his guide to have a "good" story prompted the guide to take risks which were not ordinarily allowed; as with all groups, not everyone got along, and he must now write about people he did not like -- people who are now maimed or who died, leaving widows and children to read the book; he has been left, he says, badly shaken by the expedition, and this book is an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of Everest.

Mr. Krakauer's book provides an interesting background into the personality of climbers. If you wonder why people climb Everest and other mountains ("Because it's there" is not really a filling answer for me), you may find your answer here. Mr. Krakauer speaks of his own drive as a technical rock climber, and gives brief biographies of some of the guides on his expedition. He devotes more attention to Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, the two leaders of separate commercially guided expeditions attempting to bring novice climbers to the top of Everest. The cost per person approaches US$100,000 for guide fees alone, plus travel, food, lodging, and gear.

The descriptions of the events leading up to the days of the actual assault are sometimes easy to skim through, but Mr. Krakauer's description of the climb and the brutal descent is absolutely riveting. I have no interest in climbing, and I was spared technical details other than when it foreshadowed a problem to come. The story is truly life- and- death; I knew it from the reports of the time. Mr. Krakauer tells of people at the edge of survival, faced with the knowledge that others are freezing to death and knowing that a rescue attempt may cost the rescuer's life without saving the victim. The story of the survival of Beck Weathers is particularly astounding.

Mr. Krakauer appears to feel some blame for failing to save some or all of the climbers. I will never know the conditions of Mt. Everest. I can read his description of the results of oxygen starvation and extreme exhaustion and know that I will never be in a position to judge his actions or those of any of the others. Widows and children of those who died may accuse those who lived of not doing enough, but I found no blameworthy inaction.

Review by Louise Johnson

Jon Krakauer provided me insight into a world and an approach to life that I had not seen before. As is human nature, I had evaluated the news reports of the deaths through my own experience and could not understand why people would take such risks and make such apparently bad decisions. Mr. Krakauer provided me with some understanding. The most striking points he made were a description of his inability to think clearly due to oxygen deprivation and the explanation that this is an unavoidable part of the climb. Climbers can take steps to minimize the impact of low oxygen, but cannot recognize the danger once they have run out of supplemental oxygen.

I was impressed that at least one of the climbers had never been to a funeral and had never known a close relative to die, yet he thrilled to risk death. As a person who attended my first funeral at the age of seven, I realized how differently I assess risks than the mountain climbers did.

This was an enlightening book for me; I gained understanding of how people very different from me view life. This is one of the best reasons to read!

If you know an inveterate climber or are one, you may find this book a welcome addition to your library. We checked it out from a public library, however, and have returned it. It is not a book we would keep for future reference. If you wish to purchase it, we hope you will buy from Amazon.com through our link.

Update! We found an edition we would buy. The publisher has added a great many photographs in a new edition --
Into Thin Air: The Illustrated Edition --
which makes it much easier to see and understand the daunting challenge faced by the climbers. We recommend this edition for a purchase.

Order from Amazon.com Order
Into Thin Air : (G K Hall Large Print Book Series (Cloth))
Into Thin Air : (Hardcover)
Into Thin Air : (abridged audio cassette)
Into Thin Air : (Softcover available 1998)

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