Thursday, June 18, 2009

Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

Book 66 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 11 of 50 for the New Author Challenge

Awards: Alex Award,
"Book of the Year" by TIME magazine, one of the "Best Books of the Year" by the New York Times Book Review, a finalist for a 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award, and one of three finalists for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in General Non-Fiction.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the spring of 1996, Jon Krakauer attempted the summit of Mt. Everest. Although he did have mountain climbing experience, he went on assignment for Outside magazine to report on the commercialization of Mt. Everest. Climbing as part of guided expeditions for which people pay upwards of $65,000, individuals have a significant impact on the local Nepalese and Tibetan economies and on the health of the mountain environment.

Krakauer's expedition turned sour on May 10, 1996 when everything that could go wrong did. Freak weather, reduced oxygen levels, bottlenecks caused by too many climbers attempting the summit on a single day, and impaired decision-making caused the deaths of 8 climbers that day. Ultimately, 1996 was the single deadliest climbing season on record.

Even though I knew this book was all about an impending disaster, I was thoroughly riveted to the story. I was captivated by the whole process of attempting such a climb--the preparation, the Sherpa community, the details of coping with extreme cold, lack of oxygen, and acclimitization. Personally, I would never put myself in these kinds of situations willingly, but it was fascinating to think about why people attempt extreme sports.

This was my in-person book club's read for this month. We all enjoyed it and found much to discuss. I will say that the reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that I never really warmed up to the author. His account has come under criticism by other climbers for inaccuracies and omissions (some of which he does try to defend) and he does admit some culpabibility that may have contributed to the deaths that day.

However, this book is gripping and haunting and I would definitely recommend it.

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1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

That sounds like a page turner. I've never understood the desire to climb a mountain - I'm satisfied to just look at it.