Into Thin Air – Book Review

by Josh Hanagarne on November 5, 2010

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a book that I will read many more times in my life. It has everything I love in it, except for polish sausages, but that is a tale for another day. In her wonderful book Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, Maureen Corrigan places Krakauer’s book into a category with other male, testosterone-laden memoirs about ego and adventure. I agree 100%, and hope you’ll read her book as well, particularly if you like books about books.

But back to the task at hand. Have you ever heard of Mt. Everest? Well, allow me to enlighten you for a moment. Mt. Everest is a mountain. In fact, it is this mountain:

mount everest

click for image credit

Maybe you can’t tell, but from here, my desk in Salt Lake City, it looks like a pretty tall mountain. It also looks quite cold. I’m not going to go climb Mt. Everest, I’ve decided just this minute. But that’s okay, because plenty of other crazy people have done it, including Jon Krakauer.

Into Thin Air Book Review And Summary

The beginning of the book involves the author deciding to go on the climb. As he prepares for the trip, the reader gets a great description of the mountain’s history, and of the disasters that have accompanied many attempted climbs. And yet, he is going to do it. It will make a great book, it will be a great test, it is a really tall mountain, and so on.

There is dread hanging over the book from page one, however. The subtitle is A Personal Account of The Mt. Everest Disaster. So, there is to be a disaster, no matter how interesting or fun the book’s opening chapters are.

Much of the humor in my life comes from watching people who do not work in life or death situations treat things as if they were life and death situations. For instance, I work in a library. I constantly hear myself saying to the worriers, “The worst case scenario really isn’t that bad. This is a library.”

However, there is nothing humorous about the worst case scenarios up on Mt. Everest. For all the successful tourist climbs and tourists that visit the mountain with expert sherpas, the is still a formidable, unpredictable force. When things go wrong in Into Thin Air, they go really, really wrong.

The final quarter or so of the book was as frantic as any page turner I’ve ever read. Lots of the problems center on the other climbers in the party, and their disrespect for the mountain, the weather, and also their own overestimation of their abilities. In parts, it feels just like Krakauer stocked the book with characters from central casting: We need a yuppie who brings her espresso maker up onto the mountain no matter the cost.

Also featured: stupidity, greed, hubris.

I do not want to go more in-depth here in terms of the events. People try to climb the mountain and it goes less smoothly than planned. You already know if that interests you. I hope it does!

This is a book worth approaching with as little information as possible. If you can ignore the “disaster” part of the title, you will be surprised constantly as the events unfold.

I’m about to start reading a book called High Crimes: The Fate of Everest In An Age of Greed, by Michael Kodas. I’ll be back with a review of that soon and we’ll see how it stacks up.

Anyone here read Into Thin Air? Thoughts? Have any of you climbed Mt. Everest?

Josh

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

ami November 5, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I think I may forever resent Jon Krakauer for killing off any desire I might have had to climb Mt. Everest. Now, that desire may have been as weak and wimpy as a baby kitten with no teeth, but it was there, on my dreamy fantasy bucket list – and Krakauer killed it off. While the book is well written, gripping, even, I will always view Krakauer with some suspicion.

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Dave Currie November 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I read last week that you can now get decent 3G data connection on your phone on Everest. That seems very wrong to me.

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Dave Currie November 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Yep, I read this book earlier this year, then watched the film, then read a few more of Krakauer’s books including Into The Wild, and watched the film of that too. I like his writing, he has a kind of truthful edginess that I find quite compelling. The film of Into Thin Air is pretty crap if I am honest, but the film of Into the Wild is actually bloody excellent. I actually started reading other versions of the 1996 Everest disaster – David Breashears has a book, High Exposure, which discusses it from a different perspective, as does Kenneth Kammler’s book, Doctor on Everest. In fact, Beck Weathers who features strongly in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air has his own autobiographical book too, as a survivor of the 1996 disaster, though I have yet to read that one. Id also point you to Dark Shadows Falling by Joe Simpson, and also Eiger Dreams which a collection of Essays by JK. All in all I have to say I like Krakauer’s writings, and I intend to read his Pat Tillman story at some point too. My only negative input is that my mate Del met JK a couple of years ago while trekking in the Himalayas and said he was a bit of a bigheaded dick-hole, but that doesn’t mean he cannot write :)

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LD Girl November 6, 2010 at 6:42 am

Dave

JK’s book about Pat Tillman is great, as is his book on the Mormons (Under the Banner of Heaven). I find his writing style v compelling and he is even-handed in his treatment of sensitive subjects – even when it is clear he has an opinion.
If anyone has “recommends” for similar style of adventure-type / everyday hero-type writing, I’d be grateful.
Cheers, LDG

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Dave Currie November 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Thanks, LDG, I wil get around to both the books you suggest, they’ve been on my list for a while, but I have a few in the queue ahead of them at the moment. Have a look at “Into the Wild” if you haven’t already; it’s not exactly a dramatisation, or even an account, or even “hero-stuff”, but it is interesting.

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Dave Currie November 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Ah, crap, I couldn’t resist it, just ordered both Tillman’s Story and the Banner of Heaven book as well :)

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LD Girl November 6, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hi Dave

Yes, I read and enjoyed Into The Wild too. Haven’t seen the Eiger Dreams collection though so maybe I’ll look into that. I tend to go on author benders when I find a writing style I like. That said, if the story is exciting/interesting enough with non-fiction, I’ll put up with a lot. A few months ago I read an account of the first ever single-handed, non-stop, around-the-world boat race (go hyphens!). The name of book and author escape me for now. Anyway, the writing style was DIRE but the story was fascinating so the book ended up being a real page-turner for me even as I cringed over the way in which it was told!
Hope you enjoy your new purchases.
LDG

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Dave Currie November 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Hi LDG

OK, sounds like you might like “UltraMarathonMan” by Dean Karnazes, if you haven’t read it already. I found it a great read even if it’s not great writing.
cheers
dave

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LD Girl November 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for tip Dave. As a sometime marathoner, I’ve considered a few times but having watched a couple of interviews with Mr Ultramarathon, i was put off by the hard-push self promotion…. but that might be because it’s a skill that I’m very much lacking! But now maybe I’ll give his book a go – after all, it’s no financial risk if I get it from library!
Cheers
LDG

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Dave Currie November 10, 2010 at 7:28 am

Ah, well I’d never heard of the guy until I read the book, which actually just popped up as a recommendation on Amazon, so I wasn’t spoiled by any hype, so-to-speak. Maybe being UK-resident is an advantage in that respect??? TBH, I think the book may have been written before he got pushy, IYSWIM, so if you can blot out the prior knowledge it might not annoy you so much.
cheers
dave

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LD Girl November 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Right, you’ve convinced me to give it a goal. I’m actually a Brit residing in Hong Kong, but guess I’m familiar with Karnazes because endurance running was “my
thing” for a long time and if you get interested in ultras in any way, it’s a really small universe.

I’ve remembered the name of the non-stop RTW boat race book: “A Race Too Far” by Chris Eakin. Again, be warned on the writing, but the story is fascinating.
Cheers
LDG

Dave Currie November 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Eek! this is getting to be a bit of an epic thread for me. I had a look for the Eakin book, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon or Ebay at anything other than “silly” prices, so I may actually end up going to my local library for the first time in a long time ( I hope Josh isn’t reading this!!!). Here’s the strange thing though, when I read the synopsis of Eakin’s book I realised that I actually have a connection to this event, albeit slightly tenuous – about ten years ago I worked with a company who organised a R-T-W yacht race which was in turn sponsored by The Times newspaper as was the Golden Globe race in the book. In some respects one may have grown into the other, I am not sure, I am not a yachty-type, but worked on the website and IT systems for the race. In that capacity I met Robin Knox-Johnston, the only competitor to finish the Golden Globe Race in 1968 quite a few times as he was then a sort-of spokesman/figurehead for the race. He was certainly quite a character, that’s for sure. In fact, I think he still is as I saw him on TV quite recently.

Anyway, enough wittering from me, but I just could not help passing comment on the coincidence :)
cheers
dave

ps. is the LDG “long-distance-girl” then?

LD Girl November 16, 2010 at 1:25 am

Hi Dave

[Sorry for mid-thread reply, but the "Reply" under your last message has disappeared...?]

You know, “long distance” for “LD” hadn’t ever occurred to me until you pointed it out – despite it being appropriate….perhaps I should change my name to Stanley instead (assume as a Brit you’ll get that!)

It actually stands for “Llama Dough,” which is a bas***dised transliteration of the name of my Hong Kong ‘hometown’. But I like your version too so if other people ask I’ll mix it up a bit!

Right, enough – see you on another thread in the future!

Cheers

LDG

Cathy N. November 6, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Read it a few years ago and liked it. Krakauer really doesn’t try to hide the fact that he is a jerk. Good review, Josh.

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Climber February 12, 2011 at 12:45 am

I thought the book was well written, showing how much the climbing of everest is now more of a game, than something to actually be serious about. People who think that just because they have the cash, cannot buy everything, especially climbing a mountain like everest. I do not care if jk is a jerk or not, that is not my buisness. You play with fire, you are gonna get burned, of which some got burned on that very climb.

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hunter July 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

where i can read all of chapter this book???

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Josh Hanagarne July 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

Inside the book.

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