on 4 February 2002
Whether you have an interest in mountaineering or not, this book is difficult to put down. To a non-alpinist, the author has succeeded in portraying the story behind this tragedy in such a way that in the first few chapters, you begin to toy with the idea that mountaineering might hold some attraction. However, in the telling of the summit tragedy and the events thereafter the idea that Everest might be a seductive force is completely erased and you are left with a feeling of utmost horror and helplessness at what these people went through. There is a realisation that it's not just about getting to the summit - mountaineers have a mind-set which demands further examination by lesser mortals.
Jon Krakauer is a gifted writer and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a book to get totally immersed in. I couldn't put it down and read it cover to cover twice.
on 16 February 2009
I have no knowledge of climbing (beyond reading Touching the Void) and no urge to try it myself, but I still found this a fascinating and an utterly compelling read. The levels of pain and fear the climbers put themselves through are mind boggling and Jon Krakauer seems to really convey the level of effort involved.
Krakauer was commissioned, as a journalist, to look at whether commercial aspects of guided Everest expeditions were diminishing the achievement, and while he finds a very commercialised situation that doesn't prevent the feat of climbing Everest from being extremely dangerous and difficult.
A number of reviewers have criticised Jon Krakauer for being biased and apportioning blame for the tragedy that his book describes, but it's worth bearing in mind that Krakauer's book is described as a 'personal' account. He doesn't set out to write a definitive truth of what happened merely his version of events as he (and others who he interviewed) can best recall considering the effects of altitude and lack of oxygen at the time.
Krakauer certainly has views on the behaviour and decisions of some of the people on the mountain but to read these as fact rather than personal opinion is to miss the tone in which the book is written. At various points Krakauer questions the actions of Anatoli Boukreev (and other reviewers have suggested reading Anatoli Boukreev's book The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest to get a balanced view), but in no way is he portrayed as 'the chief villain of the piece' as the product description of Boukreev's book suggests.
In fact Krakauer reserves plenty of criticism for himself, errors he made during the tragedy and misinformation he propagated because he was convinced it was true. He describes the heroic efforts of others (including Boukreev) while admitting to his own inaction on various occasions.
So while the book might be as 'biased' as any personal account would be, I don't think the criticisms against it are justified. Read the book and be astonished.
on 20 August 2002
A detailed and personal account of the '96 Everest disaster. This book provides a fascinating armchair understanding of the physical/mental demands of high altitude climbing and the events leading up to the tragedy that killed 12 people. This account created a widespread fascination of the event, along with widespread debate and controversy. If there is a must read in the mountaineering world, this is it.
on 29 October 2006
This is an account of the `96 Everest expedition that lead to tragedy as witnessed by one of the climbers involved with the 2 groups at the centre of the tragedy. John Krakauers account is utterly compelling from the first page to the last. You feel exhausted & breathless yourself as he recounts the events that unfolded on Everset in May `96. He`s writing style is fluid, containing enough information & detail to the scene as is needed by the reader to help get a sense of the mountain & climbing it. You also gain a sense of the other climbers & begin to understand there ambitions & what motivated them to try to climb the highest mountain on earth. [ not all come over as descent people & many have very selfish reasons indeed ] I bought this book based on the recommendations here at Amazon & i was so engrossed i read the whole thing in a matter of hours. Even if your not into climbing you will not be able to put this book down. I really felt for Krakauer after reading this & for the families of those that died. A tale of daring, stubbornness, willpower, determination, bad judgement, indicisiveness & ultimately death, well told highly recommended.
on 30 January 1999
Having never held any interest in mountaineering, I came across 'Into Thin Air' by accident. However, I found Jon Krakauer's account of the 1996 Everest disaster to be utterly gripping. Krakauer gives a clear insight into what compels ordinary people to leave their everyday existence behind and spend vast sums to conquer the world's highest peak. Many were attracted by the fact that the mountain had appeared to be 'tamed.' Expert guides such as Rob Hall, whose expedition Krakauer joined in 1996, had previously guided relatively inexperienced fee paying clients to the summit. In a time when daredevil mountaineering feats had lost their appeal in terms of attracting commercial sponsorship, many climbers came to rely increasingly upon guided expeditions to earn a living. Krakauer lucidly describes the motives of the various teams that congregated upon Everest in 1996 as well as the sometimes fraught interaction between them. The events that led to the death of eight climbers during a terrible storm on the upper reaches of the mountain are recounted in detail. Krakauer is frank in his assessment of what went wrong and much of what he says may seem obvious with hindsight but as he is at pains to point out, rational thought and action is often impossible in intense cold and at extreme altitude.
The quality of Krakauer's writing is exceptional and this book engages the reader on several levels. Issues such as the commercial pressures upon the guides, the motives of the climbers and the effects of the expeditions upon the Himalayan community and environment are examined in an intelligent manner. What remains most in the mind however is the bravery of the climbers, especially those involved in the rescue attempts, and the images of the mountain itself as a great physical and spiritual entity that has possibly not always been afforded the respect it is due.
on 25 November 2002
This was the first of a series of books I have now read on Everest. The reason for this is that the book makes such compelling, fascinating and inciteful reading you are left for a thirst for more. Undoubtedly a tragedy, yet at the same time a personal triumph, this book should have you enthralled from the very first chapter. The attention to detail is excellent and the fleshing out of the characters is good.
I really felt at times as if i was also there on the slopes with the author, so good is he at reliving the event. The sense of angst and self-doubt that pervades it are also affecting. Recommend , as have others, that you read into thin air by Matt Dickinson as an antidote.
on 24 October 2000
I found this book hard to put down and read it from cover to cover in a day. Krakauer writes in a way that puts you in the very middle of the story. While i found the book fascinating i think it is also important to read something like The Climb by Antoli Boukreev or the Death Zone by Dickinson to get a more rounded opinion of the whole disaster. Krakauer has been quick to judge some people and whilst not laying blame he is not far from it, so enjoy the book but remember however well it is written it is only how one man interpreted the terrible events.
on 13 February 2003
This book makes you wonder at what some people will do. Their determination to get to the top of Everest is obsessional, and this is an account of the hardship and joys that they go through to get there.
Once you get into the book, it is hard to put down. It is a book I will keep and read a number of times.
on 11 February 2016
'Into Thin Air' is a gripping, haunting account of the now infamous 1996 guided Everest expedition that went horribly wrong, resulting in 8 deaths. The tragedy has been brought to the fore again following Kormakur's recent blockbuster, 'Everest', which, in my view, is a pretty faithful re-telling of Krakauer's book.
Debate still rages about some differences in subsequent accounts of events that day. Particularly, the part Anatoli Boukreev (Fischer's chief guide) played in helping/hindering the unfolding situation. Krakauer offers some fairly mild criticism regarding Boukreev's decision to ascend without supplementary oxygen, suggesting his guiding performance would have been greatly enhanced with it; Boukreev, for instance, may not have felt the need to descend so urgently, ahead of the clients behind him.
It is somewhat damning criticism, I guess, however carefully phrased. And it does rather heap a lot of guilt on one man. A man who did, in the end, rescue 3 clients single-handed. Perhaps Krakauer could have left these sort of judgements to the reader, because the facts themselves, as Krakauer has documented, have not been substantively challenged.
The emphasis though, correctly, in my opinion, remains on the botched organisation and questionable decision-making of the two expedition leaders, Hall and Fischer. And, in fairness, Krakauer even goes on to acknowledge his own impact as client/journalist as another detrimental factor: the press coverage a massive incentive for Hall and Fischer to take risks to succeed.
It's a shame about the bitter, back-biting aftermath. Krakauer himself not immune to it - calling the film version, 'total bull'. Objecting, principally, to the scene where Krakauer refuses to assist Boukreev in the rescue effort due to exhaustion and snow-blindness. Krakauer claims it never happened.
Understandably, a raw and damaging experience to process for all those who survived - a crazy, ego bound, foolhardy quest, in the first place? Whatever your view, Krakauer's account is utterly compelling, demanding much pause for thought.
on 5 November 2015
After watching the movie "Everest," I felt compelled to buy this account. I've just finished this book and feel obliged to chip in.
Firstly, it's written extremely well, with explanations for the bewildering amount of mountaineering jargon, aiding accessibility. The account moves long at a rapid rate and it is, to coin a well used phrase, a real page-turner. Krakauer transports you, through the medium of his words, into the expedition's footsteps. Through the filth and squalor at Lobuje to the stacks of empty oxygen bottles at South Col to the frozen corpses that litter the "Death Zone," you are on Everest with him.
Secondly, I would disagree with the criticisms levelled at Krakauer regarding Anatoli Boukreev. The book was written from Krakauer's perspective, not an unbiased textbook. In Jon's OPINION, Boukreev was selfish to leave his group behind. Personally, I agree with Krakauer - if you are employed as a guide, you are there for your clients, not yourself. Having said that, no one living, was party to the conversations between Anatoli and Scott Fischer, leader of the Mountain Madness company. They may well have had a philosophy along the lines of: "When we hit a certain point, it's every man for themselves" and advised their clients of this philosophy. The clients in turn, may well have indemnified Mountain Madness to that effect. Who knows?
Now, was Anatoli brave in doing what he did? Absolutely and he deserved every award and plaudit that came his way and I don't believe that Krakauer disagrees that Anatoli was brave. I think that Jon felt a lot of guilt over the fact that he was so exhausted and sick after arriving in base camp, that he couldn't assist in any rescue attempts.
At the end of the day, we can dissect and argue until the cows come home, but the book is a cracking read and is highly recommended. I paid double its current £1.96 price and I still think it was a bargain.