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on 13 June 2016
I listened to the audio version of this book and Philip Franklin does a great job with the narration. I haven’t read Jon Krakauer before and I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the gradual unfolding of Chris McCandless’ story. I’d never heard of Chris McCandless before this and I found the story fascinating, tragic and scarcely credible in parts. If this had been fiction I can imagine the reader or listener berating the ‘hero’ for his lack of foresight and preparation before embarking on such a dangerous and uncertain journey.

Jon Krakauer explores Chris’ McCandless’s life, and death, through his family, Chris’ own notes, photographs and letters, plus the people he met on his travels, most of whom felt a compelling pull towards the young man and came to love him.

Basically, I’m not sure what to think. Here’s a highly academically intelligent young man who had a privileged upbringing, protesting strongly against world hunger and the wastage of food. He was angry at his father who lead a double life for several years, which is understandable. Perhaps it was a combination of these things, coupled with the books he was fond of reading by authors such as Jack London, Tolstoy and Thoreau to name just a few, which fired his imagination and passions for the idea of travel and survival in remote and unforgiving areas, ultimately the wilderness. He believed a person should own nothing apart from whatever they could carry. No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.

The story begins on April 27th, 1992 as Chris, or Alex as he now calls himself, is hitching from Fairbanks, Alaska and is offered a lift by Jim Gallien. He wants a ride to the edge of Denali National Park so he can just walk into the bush and live off the land for a few months.

Chris’ death was a tragedy which could have been avoided if he’d prepared for his stay in the wilds of Alaska with practicality and learned enough about endurance in such a harsh environment. That he chose not to, shows a lack of common sense, an underestimation of the wilderness and what it takes to survive.

Chris’ idealism and intensity caused a tremendous amount of hurt and suffering. It seems he had no thought of how his lack of communication would affect his parents, Walt and Billie, and Carine, the sister he supposedly loved. I can only imagine how distraught his family must have been during the whole time Chris was missing from their lives. Then, to learn he died in such dreadful circumstances had to have been beyond devastating.

During the course of the narrative Jon Krakauer does an impressive job of delving into the mindset of adventurers drawn to the ‘call of the wild’, including himself. It’s apparent, and understandable, that he feels a fascination for, and identifies with, Chris McCandless, given the parallels between their lives. He doesn’t claim to be an impartial biographer, quite the opposite. I don’t, however, agree with the view that Chris’ mistakes were innocent ones. He deliberately went into the Alaskan wilderness rashly, unprepared and without the basic necessities or any kind of reserve or support should he find himself in an emergency situation, despite all advice to the contrary.

In the end, Chris lived his life the way he wanted to, mostly isolated from people and minus the pointless, as he saw it, trappings of a materialistic society, and paid the ultimate price. It’s still a very sad end to such a short life. I found the recounting of the last few weeks of his life, via the journals he kept, very poignant. Especially since it seems Chris was ready to return to civilisation and, had he possessed the relevant map and knowledge, would more than likely have made it. Jon Krakauer’s theory on the cause of Chris’ death seems the most reasonable explanation and makes a lot of sense. I’ll be checking out more of this author’s work.
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on 24 March 2016
Don't get me wrong, this is a really good book, written by someone who was actually there in the party that this tragedy befell in 1996. It is a good account of what transpired when two expedition teams – Adventure Consultants (led by Rob Hall), and Mountain Madness (led by Scott Fischer) – got caught out by a huge storm high up on Mt. Everest…with dire consequences.

However, it is not without its faults. Having done a fair bit of research into this tragedy I did not particularly like the way that Krakauer portrayed experienced climber Anatoli Boukreev, in an almost vilifying manner; after all, this was a man who helped save the lives of several climbers stuck in the vicious storm by actually going back out in to it himself, and physically dragging survivors back with him to camp.

But putting that aside – and a few other bits - this is a harrowing book detailing the awful events – and loss of life – during the ’96 Everest tragedy. A worthwhile read, but do yourself a favour and get this book AND the Anatoli Boukreev book ‘The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest’ and compare the two.
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on 20 March 2017
JK writes this epic tale with the knowledge of someone that has done their research, knows their topic and has at least some inkling of what Chris was feeling and trying to do. He's taken risks himself, albeit more calculated ones and clearly with better odds attached. This book was a pleasure to read, CMcC was an adventurer, a man who baulked at the idea of living in a stone house surrounded by technology, other people and living a comfortable and convenient life - he yearned for the solace of a lonely life and felt better connected to the wilds of Alaska than any WiFi. Was he ill-prepared? I think so. Idealistic and maybe a little naive? Possibly. But the gamble for CMcC was worth it, unfortunately, it didn't pay off!
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on 18 July 2016
So wow, where to even start with this book. I decided to read it right after seeing the movie which was a bit confusing, probably because a story at high altitude is difficult to understand when represented visually.

The book does so much to provide missing context and detail to the story, in all its real horror. Over and over there are examples where poor use of judgement and emotional, financial and competitive drivers override effective system management. Despite this, there are examples of amazing feats of human survival and episodes of heroism. However the haunting reality is that nothing seems to have been learnt and this seems to be anchored to the fact that 'Everest is a loosely regulated business' (unlike something like airline travel which is heavily regulated and therefore similar lessons result in real changes).

Despite this was an absolutely nail biting read which kept me reading until the wee hours of the morning. Which in some ways depicts the relationship we have with Everest itself, it's horrifying, infuriating and often defeating, yet utterly gripping and rapturous at the same time. An amazing read, full five stars.
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on 4 March 2016
Really enjoyed this book. It was well written and a fascinating insight into the reasons why these crazy people would even entertain the thought of putting themselves in such danger. It really does seem to be a kind of madness that pushes them on and on even when they are at the limits of their endurance. I read some reviews that said the criticism of certain people was unfair and so I was initially wary but I felt comments were not extreme or unreasonable. It shocked me how casually everyone treated dead bodies strewn around the mountains, let alone the filth and garbage left behind. Can't help thinking these people have to go hunting mountains because they don't have sabre tooth tigers to chase anymore. Great book, weird people.
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on 28 November 2017
Great book - well written and you really absorbing. I also read the other books related to this disaster and whilst they were not as well written it was good to get the other viewpoints. If you plan on reading one book about the disaster I would recommend this one and if you plan on reading them all I would recommend starting with this one as it was so descriptive it made the others really easy to follow.
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on 24 September 2017
Was inspired to know more after watching the movie Everest. I loved this book and found it absolutely fascinating.
I don't have any particular interest in mountaineering (although Amazon seems to want me to read EVERY book about Everest now that I've purchased one!), I just like a non-fiction now and again.
This book gives more insight into the back-story of the mountaineers and their motivations to scale Everest, the history of the Everest mountaineering and helps to really appreciate the problems that can happen at high altitude.
I would highly recommend.
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on 14 February 2015
The closest I have been to mountains is a coach ride through the Cairngorms but
I have always been fascinated by mountain climbing documentaries and movies. There is something reassuring about watching others struggle with the elements and their own strengths and weaknesses from the comfort of your recliner while you wonder what you yourself would do under similar circumstances. However this book was different, it was impossible to remain detached from the people you met as you turned each page and so their desperate situation had a real effect on me. One thing struck me as particularly horrifying. I had no idea that so many of those that have died on Everest are still there. Reading about climbers calmly walking past or even stepping over the frozen corpse of another human being who had died several years or even decades before gave me the shudders. It seems that when it comes to this mountain nothing matters except getting to the top even if it means you end up another casualty who may end up being passed by future generations of climbers eager to get to the top of the world. This is a fantastic book written by a man who is not afraid to question his own part in the disaster. You won't be able to put it down.
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on 10 December 2014
This book has stayed with me long after I finished reading it. As soon as I finished in fact, I downloaded 'into thin air'. I'm not going to give my opinion here of Chris M (needless to say I changed my mind countless times along the way), you cna make your own mind up, but I know this book does create a divide of those who are infurriated by what they consider to be hischildish, selfish and irresponsible behaviour and those who thing he is inspirational and his thoughts on how we live in this capitalist world are completely valid. If you have a friend who recommends you read this book, as they already have, then please do. When I had finished it, I was desperate to discuss 'Chris' with other readers!! It raised loads of questions for me, about the world and about my life and my role in it. I haven't read another book quite like this. Very enjoyable.
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on 24 January 2018
How does it feel to question your own ability and that of those around you? To push yourself to the very limit of physical and emotional deterioration? These questions lay in the story of all mountaineering expeditions. The author details the extreme highs and the devastating lows that burden those who are driven to ascend the highest peaks and the price paid by those who wait for them to return. An excellent read.
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