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Book Review “Into Thin Air”

Posted by bmac on June 21, 2008

After reading Jon Krakauers book about Chris McCandless “Into The Wild”, I tought I’d check out his next book, “Into Thin Air” about the deadliest single day in the history of Mt. Everest, May 10 1996, told from his perspective, as a member of one of the ill-fated expeditions that day.

Climbing Everest has become a business. The routes up the mountain have been narrowed down to a science to the extent that even inexperienced climbers can make a summit attempt, with the help of guides, and Sherpas. If you can cough up $65 grand, and are in decent physical condition, there are “Adventure Teams” that will all but drag your ass up to the highest point on planet Earth.

The really hard part however, is getting down, and Everest is littered with the frozen corpses of climbers who stood on top of the world, only to collapse on the descent, at which point, they are left for dead, because carrying them down the mountain is impossible, even for the masterful Sherpas. Climbers routinely trudge right by dead or dying “clients” overtaken by “Summit Fever,” who refused to turn around at the alotted time, because the summit was in reach.

This is what’s fascinating about this book. Climbing Everest is a three month process, as climbers have to acclimate to the altitude, to be able to make the final push to the summit, and by the time they’ve gotten to where they can make that push, the clock is ticking against their survival in the extreme cold and thin air. The summit of Everest is the halfway point of a 15-20 hour day of extreme conditions, after months of depriving their bodies of precious oxygen, and living in miserable conditions on the mountain.

This is where it gets ugly, and where things went wrong for Krakauers group, and several other expiditions that day in 1996. Many of the guides feel a responsibility to summit their clients who’ve paid so much to stand atop this mountain, and against their better judgement, will continue on to the summit well past the pre-arranged turn around time, and some clients just will not stop, (summit fever).

Krakauer takes us through the three month process, and the harrowing final two days spent in a deadly storm in the “Death Zone,” as his fellow climbers were dying or near death, stranded on the mountain without oxygen or shelter.

Fascinating stuff, riveting from beginning to end, and here’s the article Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine shortly after his return from Everest, which he expanded on for the book.

Check it out, it’s a great read. This particular incident has been exremely controversial, and here’s an interesting ten-year follow up from Outside.

22 Responses to “Book Review “Into Thin Air””

  1. Stormy70 said

    I read this book several years ago, and the way it was written made me feel cold and out of breath.

    Harrowing is the word.

  2. bmac said

    Great description Stormy.
    It’s incredibly intense. Makes me wonder why people put themselves through that, and Beck Weathers, (one of the survivors who lost an arm and his other hand to frosbite), made a good point when he said, at this point, climbing Everest has been done, you’re not going to make any history books by doing it. But then again, he tried it, and he’s lucky to be alive.

    Great stuff.

  3. Enas Yorl said

    Huh. So going up Everest is dangerous? Well I’m canceling my trip right now!

  4. Oh wow, I’d forgotten about this. I’d read that “outside” article when it came out.

  5. Duh. I meant to also say it really is a very fascinating story.

  6. bmac said

    Yep, really great book, couldn’t put it down. A must read.

    Hi Enas!

  7. mesablue said

    I read this a while back. I followed that year’s climb on mountain zone. The tragedy was live blogged before they even had blogs.

    The first paragraph in the book really grabs you and then doesn’t let up from there.

    Krakauer is a great story teller.

    Under the Banner of Heaven is very good, as well.

  8. bmac said

    Gonna read it next mesa. Krakauer just seems to get a hold of these amazing stories, whether he just stumbles across them, or nearly kills himself right in the middle of them.

    Really interesting dude. Never studied writing, just started doing it. Gotta love that.

  9. Hah! You gotta love the review for Under the Banner of Heaven. Here’s the last sentence and it’s unfuckingbelievable.
    “In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America’s own borders. –John Moe”

    Ok John Moe, sorry, the amount of religious murders in the U.S. aren’t even in the same planet as those of the Islamic fundamentalists.


  10. to read the story from the other side–that of the porters–read Beyond the Summit.
    Sherpas are the true heroes of Everest. Without their assistance, very few would reach the summit. To learn more about this amazing tribe, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

    Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to http://www.beyondthesummit-novel.com

    Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

    Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
    Richard Blake for Readers Views.

    A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest. EverestNews.com

    A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

    LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

    LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

    A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there. USABookNews.com

    This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
    – John (college professor)

    Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialog. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

    This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

    Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
    By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

    Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders, amazon.com, Chesslerbooks.com, and the web site

  11. bmac said

    You owe me $75 for that ad Linda.

  12. LMAO!


  13. bmac said

    Yeah, I’m contemplating deleting it, but it doesn’t piss me off that much.

  14. I think it’s too long for most people to read anyways. I couldn’t choke through it.

  15. Tarkus said

    I made about halfway through the “beyond the summit” post and got distracted by a piece of lint blowing across my desk….will try to get back to it in minute.

  16. bmac said

    Must be a real Barn-Burner of a book.

  17. I made about halfway through the “beyond the summit” post and got distracted by a piece of lint blowing across my desk….will try to get back to it in minute


    I guess she needs to do this because only having her mother and uncle purchase copies wasn’t quite cutting it.

  18. kate said

    While on his quest for answers Jon Krakauer makes it a habit to point the finger and place blame on several accounts.Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a dark tragedy that poses as an answer to all the unanswered questions that Krakauer has been asking himself ever since the disaster occurred. It leads the reader into doing exactly what Jon Krakauer was doing while writing the book, which was trying to decide where to place the blame (Scott Fischer, Anatoli Boukreev, and Dr. Hunt).Krakauer has the structure of the events, there is a theatrical side to his story that is leading to the reader, and this is why Anatoli Boukreev set out to write his book The Climb. to see different side of what really happend on that horrible day check The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev.

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  20. My own personal view is J.K’s. Book “INTO THIN AIR” is first rate. Since reading ITA, I have read and watch every article and documentary on the events of May 10th. 1996. Why are there so many who point the finger at J.K. as to his views on what went wrong. Yes, I know he made a mistake when he thought he saw Andy Harris at the South Col, HOWEVER he admits to this big error several times. Now be honest, how many others would have just obmitted this error or worse try to cover it up…1) Was he right on Sandy Hill Pitmans role in all this? Everything I read say absolutely, remember the ropes could not be fixed because the Sherpa was falt worn out & sick. He was carrying over 85lbs. on B.S. from Pitman. 2) Was he right about Rob Halls decision to ignore hs own ‘turn around’ rule? 3) Was he right about Scott Fischer’s decision to take a client by himself back down to base camp from camp 3, this took Scott’s reserve energy..anyway, you get the point…at least Jon had opinions and presented them in what I believe was as honest as he saw it. ..Beyond J.K’s writings, I know nothing about the man. I do however find this a very interesting read ! !

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