Monday, July 25, 2016

Book 21: Into Thin Air

TITLE: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
AUTHOR: Jon Krakauer
STARTED: July 6, 2016
FINISHED: July 13, 2016
PAGES: 293
GENRE: Non-Fiction / Memoir

FIRST SENTENCE: In March 1996, Outside magazine sent me to Nepal to participate in, and write about, a guided ascent of Mount Everest.

SUMMARY: [From BN] Into Thin Air is the definitive, personal account of the deadliest season in the history of Mount Everest -- told by acclaimed journalist, and bestselling author of Into the Wild and Eiger Dreams, Jon Krakauer. On assignment for Outside magazine, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas to report on the growing commercialization of the planet's highest mountain. When he reached the summit in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn't slept in over 57 hours and was reeling from oxygen depletion. Twenty other climbers were pushing for the summit, and no one had noticed the clouds filling the sky. Six hours later, and 3,000 feet lower, Krakauer collapsed in his tent. The next morning he learned that six of the climbers hadn't made it back. Even though one climber in four dies attempting to reach the summit, business is booming as guides take the rich and the adventurous up the mountain for a fee of $65,000. Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people -- including himself -- to throw caution to the wind and willingly subject themselves to so much danger, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity, Krakauer's account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.

THOUGHTS: After I saw the movie Everest, I just had to get my hands on this book. The movie was great and I was in the mood to learn more about this event. The book did not disappoint. Krakauer's reputation for recreating outdoor experiences is well deserved. When he talks about being unable to breath, you will deeply inhale and bless the air. When he details being cold to the bone, you will shiver. When he discusses the emotional pain of the journey, you will want to cry. This book was incredibly vivid and I was engrossed from the first page.

Krakauer's writing style is simple but effective. The book is more or less chronological, but he references moments before and after the expedition when relevant. The story flows smoothly and the book reads almost like a travel narrative. The writing is gorgeous because Krakauer adds just enough detail to set the scene without entering purple prose. When he is cold, he says he is cold, not that he felt encased in ice. There are no wasted words or sentences to clutter the page. Each word makes it's necessary point and then moves on. This simplicity means the starkness of the setting and the drama of the climb take center stage.

My main complaint about this book is that Krakauer pats himself on the back a lot. He discusses that he's better than most climbers and helped the sherpas more. This is all likely true, but something about the tone of those paragraphs comes across as snooty. It's a little off-putting. That said, Krakauer also notes when he was in the wrong. He double-guesses his decisions at the time, and admits that the thin air causes you to act differently. You can feel his anguish in the "what ifs" of the trip.

In some ways, this book might have been written too soon after the tragedy. Krakauer himself admits that. He was haunted by what happened on Everest and need to put words on the page. In many ways, you can feel him working through PTSD. I read the original edition of the book, so I don't know what the newest edition's afterword says, but I would not surprised if distance and time has altered his remembrance about the trip.

This book is haunting. I have a feeling that I will re-read it in the future to see if time changes my own perspective on it.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent]

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