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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (1997)

by Jon Krakauer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
11,631278377 (4.18)328
A history of Mount Everest expedition is intertwined with the disastrous expedition the author was a part of, during which five members were killed by a hurricane-strength blizzard. When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn't slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn't made it back to their camp and were in a desperate struggle for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated. Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people - including himself - to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer's eye-witness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.… (more)
Recently added byjkoehler61, BethelMennonite, tomepats, 2blackcats, RINIELA, imlee, private library, leezeebee, eduardo9092
Legacy LibrariesThomas C. Dent
  1. 71
    The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev (marzipanz, oregonobsessionz, coclimber, bluepiano)
    marzipanz: It may seem like an obvious recommendation, but I would really urge everybody to read The Climb instead of or in addition to Into Thin Air. It really sheds a completely new light on some of what Krakauer writes, and - to me - seemed a far more convincing account of some of the events.… (more)
    oregonobsessionz: While The Climb is not an easy read like Into Thin Air, it does provide a different perspective on the disaster, and answers some of Krakauer's criticisms of Boukreev's actions.
    bluepiano: I may be the only reader of Krakauer's book who thought Boukreev came across as a hero in it. The Climb is a heartening reminder that experience, intelligence, and calm can be the makings of heroism, and it's quite interesting as well.
  2. 50
    The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger (kraaivrouw)
  3. 40
    Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest by Beck Weathers (riverwillow)
  4. 40
    Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (VivienneR)
  5. 30
    Everest: The West Ridge by Thomas F. Hornbein (BookWallah)
    BookWallah: If you liked Into Thin Air, then you are ready for the mountaineering classic, Everest: The West Ridge. This sparse first person account of the other American team that came after Whitaker in 1963 and put up a route that has seldom been repeated.
  6. 20
    Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson (alaskabookworm)
    alaskabookworm: Couldn't put "Shadow Divers" down; one of my favorite nonfiction adventure books of all time.
  7. 20
    Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains by Jon Krakauer (fichtennadel, Sandydog1)
    Sandydog1: If you want some background on "what makes Krakauer tick", do check out his earlier stories.
  8. 20
    K2 : Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs (Grandeplease)
  9. 20
    Blind Descent: the Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James M. Tabor (PamFamilyLibrary)
    PamFamilyLibrary: Who would guess, but going down into the Super Caves is as dangerous as going up K2 or Everest.
  10. 10
    The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz (sombrio)
  11. 10
    Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey by Göran Kropp (Navarone)
  12. 10
    Annapurna by Maurice Herzog (Sandydog1)
  13. 10
    The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm by Matt Dickinson (riverwillow)
  14. 10
    The Kid Who Climbed Everest: The Incredible Story of a 23-Year-Old's Summit of Mt. Everest by Bear Grylls (FireandIce)
  15. 10
    Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar (sweetbug)
    sweetbug: Both stories of mountaineering adventures gone terribly, terribly wrong.
  16. 10
    Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil (normandie_m)
    normandie_m: The events in this book re-opened discussion of the controversies surrounding the 1996 disaster. Heil examines similar themes, particularly the ethical dilemma of whether or not to offer assistance to/rescuing sick climbers when one's own health and supplies such as oxygen are depleted.… (more)
  17. 00
    Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (sturlington)
  18. 00
    The Lost City of Z by David Grann (g33kgrrl)
  19. 00
    In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (ethanw)
    ethanw: these guys were really cold too! Both books are excellently written and paced.
  20. 00
    The Summit of the Gods, Volume 1 by Jirô Taniguchi (villemezbrown)

(see all 26 recommendations)

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» See also 328 mentions

English (267)  Spanish (4)  Italian (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (276)
Showing 1-5 of 267 (next | show all)
At times, reading this book felt rather invasive. Ostensibly it's journalist Jon Krakauer's account of what transpired in May 1996 atop Mt Everest. He had been commissioned by mountaineering magazine Outside to take part in one of the guided ascents so as to write a piece on this controversial practice of experienced climbers helping people to the top who would otherwise have no chance of reaching it. On the day his group and another guided exhibition made their bids for the summit, a storm moved in. Krakauer and a few others barely made it back from the summit to the camp they had set up, eight others from the two groups were less fortunate and died.

I say “ostensibly” because what the book really feels like is therapy. Krakauer harbours a great deal of guilt over the events. Some of this is survivor's guilt and some comes from the fact that a few hours after he returned to his tent a group of survivors lost their way in the blizzard and decided to try to wait out the storm agonisingly close to the camp. Hours later when the storm began to clear some of this group did find the camp and Anatoli Boukreev, one of the Russian guides, made a couple of attempts to rescue the others. Ultimately only one member of this small group died, a Japanese climber called Yasuko Namba (both she and American Beck Weathers were left for dead, but Weathers somehow awoke from his comatose state and walked back into camp the next morning, ultimately making it off the mountain alive if horrifically frostbitten). Krakauer's guilt over being asleep in his tent while people were dying so close by is palpable at times, and one can only hope that the barely contained outpourings of grief in the text were cathartic. But as I said at the start of the review, part of me felt that I was reading someone's diary or listening in on a therapy session, something that did make me a tad uncomfortable at times.

Those qualms aside, the book is a well written account. Krakauer has done his research, something that becomes vastly more important when writing about events at such high altitude since the lack of oxygen has a powerful discombobulating effect. Indeed, for several months after the climb Krakauer had been telling people that he had spoken to one of the guides, Andy Harris, and seen him fall down a large sheet of ice unscathed and walk into camp. When Harris was not present at the camp the next morning Krakauer set out to find him and discovering some crampon marks next to a sheer drop on the edge of the camp he surmised that a hypoxic Harris had got lost walking into camp and walked right off a cliff. Harris's family, who the previous evening had been told that Harris was fine, then had to be told that in fact he had died a rather ignoble death. Months later while interviewing another survivor, Krakauer discovered that the man he had spoken to and seen fall into the camp wasn't Harris, but this survivor, Martin Adams. Hypoxic himself, Krakauer's brain had mistaken this relative stranger for his friend Harris and thus the confusion began. The crampon marks on the edge of the drop later turned out to be from one of the Sherpas who had also got lost and walked beyond the camp, before realising his mistake and clambering back via the cliff. Harris, it turned out, had gone back for his group's leader and one of the clients, who were still near the summit. His ice axe, left stuck part way up a cliff, suggested he didn't make it.

A great number of jarring juxtapositions are strewn through the text. The romantic illusions of climbing the world's highest mountain contrasted with the excrement and litter filled camps along the route. The statistics showing that more climbers survive Everest now that ever before, contrasted with the corpses encountered by the path and the ultimate fact that 1996 saw fifteen climbers die on Everest, the greatest number in a single season ever. Some of the people involved are also almost caricatures of Hollywood stereotypes. There's the British villain who lies and threatens his way to the top, even refusing to let Krakauer's team use his radio when theirs ran out of batteries while the disaster was unfolding. There's the American prima donna who takes her laptops and hairdryer with her, having a Sherpa carry it all even to the camps where it won't work anymore. These depressing examples of humanity are portrayed in a generally open and honest manner. Krakauer doesn't seem to be blaming anyone, just trying to get everything off his chest and understand why it happened. Unfortunately the people best suited to answer this question died on the mountain, and those that survived had a tendency to alter their story on each telling, until many of these died too in the subsequent years.

The finger pointing does start up a little bit in the final chapter, but upon finishing that I didn't honestly feel that anyone who survived the events was to blame. Certainly not Anatoli Boukreev, the Russian guide. He had made some foolish decisions, yes. He was being paid $25 000 to act as a guide, yet seemed to treat it as a chance to climb the mountain. He avoided the clients in his group and climbed the mountain without supplemental oxygen, a feat tricky at the best of times. Trying to climb Everest and help others to and from the summit without using oxygen was folly, and Krakauer points this out. But he also highlights the hours that Boukreev spent rescuing the group who had made it almost to the camp. So I was a little surprised when I discovered that the “update” in this second edition wasn't a more definitive version of events, but simply a postscript wherein Krakauer rebuts aspersions on his character and factual errors in Boukreev's book [b:The Climb|1750745|The Climb Tragic Ambitions on Everest|Anatoli Boukreev|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1317791328s/1750745.jpg|910376]. The tragedy that happened on Everest was inevitably going to effect the lives of those who survived, but it's a shame that in the years following it descended into name calling and arguments over some fairly minor details. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
The story of an ill-fated Everest expedition by one of the members.

I suspect I wouldn't have finished this if it hadn't been a book club choice. Perhaps I wasn't concentrating enough, but I found it hard to keep track of who was where and where each place was in relation to other places. I just came away with an impression that Everest is ridiculously overcrowded. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Jul 7, 2020 |
At times, reading this book felt rather invasive. Ostensibly it's journalist Jon Krakauer's account of what transpired in May 1996 atop Mt Everest. He had been commissioned by mountaineering magazine Outside to take part in one of the guided ascents so as to write a piece on this controversial practice of experienced climbers helping people to the top who would otherwise have no chance of reaching it. On the day his group and another guided exhibition made their bids for the summit, a storm moved in. Krakauer and a few others barely made it back from the summit to the camp they had set up, eight others from the two groups were less fortunate and died.

I say “ostensibly” because what the book really feels like is therapy. Krakauer harbours a great deal of guilt over the events. Some of this is survivor's guilt and some comes from the fact that a few hours after he returned to his tent a group of survivors lost their way in the blizzard and decided to try to wait out the storm agonisingly close to the camp. Hours later when the storm began to clear some of this group did find the camp and Anatoli Boukreev, one of the Russian guides, made a couple of attempts to rescue the others. Ultimately only one member of this small group died, a Japanese climber called Yasuko Namba (both she and American Beck Weathers were left for dead, but Weathers somehow awoke from his comatose state and walked back into camp the next morning, ultimately making it off the mountain alive if horrifically frostbitten). Krakauer's guilt over being asleep in his tent while people were dying so close by is palpable at times, and one can only hope that the barely contained outpourings of grief in the text were cathartic. But as I said at the start of the review, part of me felt that I was reading someone's diary or listening in on a therapy session, something that did make me a tad uncomfortable at times.

Those qualms aside, the book is a well written account. Krakauer has done his research, something that becomes vastly more important when writing about events at such high altitude since the lack of oxygen has a powerful discombobulating effect. Indeed, for several months after the climb Krakauer had been telling people that he had spoken to one of the guides, Andy Harris, and seen him fall down a large sheet of ice unscathed and walk into camp. When Harris was not present at the camp the next morning Krakauer set out to find him and discovering some crampon marks next to a sheer drop on the edge of the camp he surmised that a hypoxic Harris had got lost walking into camp and walked right off a cliff. Harris's family, who the previous evening had been told that Harris was fine, then had to be told that in fact he had died a rather ignoble death. Months later while interviewing another survivor, Krakauer discovered that the man he had spoken to and seen fall into the camp wasn't Harris, but this survivor, Martin Adams. Hypoxic himself, Krakauer's brain had mistaken this relative stranger for his friend Harris and thus the confusion began. The crampon marks on the edge of the drop later turned out to be from one of the Sherpas who had also got lost and walked beyond the camp, before realising his mistake and clambering back via the cliff. Harris, it turned out, had gone back for his group's leader and one of the clients, who were still near the summit. His ice axe, left stuck part way up a cliff, suggested he didn't make it.

A great number of jarring juxtapositions are strewn through the text. The romantic illusions of climbing the world's highest mountain contrasted with the excrement and litter filled camps along the route. The statistics showing that more climbers survive Everest now that ever before, contrasted with the corpses encountered by the path and the ultimate fact that 1996 saw fifteen climbers die on Everest, the greatest number in a single season ever. Some of the people involved are also almost caricatures of Hollywood stereotypes. There's the British villain who lies and threatens his way to the top, even refusing to let Krakauer's team use his radio when theirs ran out of batteries while the disaster was unfolding. There's the American prima donna who takes her laptops and hairdryer with her, having a Sherpa carry it all even to the camps where it won't work anymore. These depressing examples of humanity are portrayed in a generally open and honest manner. Krakauer doesn't seem to be blaming anyone, just trying to get everything off his chest and understand why it happened. Unfortunately the people best suited to answer this question died on the mountain, and those that survived had a tendency to alter their story on each telling, until many of these died too in the subsequent years.

The finger pointing does start up a little bit in the final chapter, but upon finishing that I didn't honestly feel that anyone who survived the events was to blame. Certainly not Anatoli Boukreev, the Russian guide. He had made some foolish decisions, yes. He was being paid $25 000 to act as a guide, yet seemed to treat it as a chance to climb the mountain. He avoided the clients in his group and climbed the mountain without supplemental oxygen, a feat tricky at the best of times. Trying to climb Everest and help others to and from the summit without using oxygen was folly, and Krakauer points this out. But he also highlights the hours that Boukreev spent rescuing the group who had made it almost to the camp. So I was a little surprised when I discovered that the “update” in this second edition wasn't a more definitive version of events, but simply a postscript wherein Krakauer rebuts aspersions on his character and factual errors in Boukreev's book [b:The Climb|1750745|The Climb Tragic Ambitions on Everest|Anatoli Boukreev|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1317791328s/1750745.jpg|910376]. The tragedy that happened on Everest was inevitably going to effect the lives of those who survived, but it's a shame that in the years following it descended into name calling and arguments over some fairly minor details. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
An engrossing look at a mountaineering accident on top of Mount Everest in May 1996 involving a few climbing expeditions, including the one in which Krakauer was taking part as a guest. Krakauer documents, in a very readable fashion, the events that led to multiple deaths on the mountain, with a few small decisions spiraling, in the face of sudden storms and wind, into a major catastrophe.

I really enjoy the outdoors, but I do think that it can be hard to reconcile a desire to be in the outdoors and to experience these incredible places with the recognition that so much can go wrong, that there are sometimes enormous inherent risks in exploring and experiencing these places. I think that Krakauer does a really good job of balancing detailing the enormous tragedy while, at the same time, honoring the majesty of Everest and making it clear why people could want to climb it. (I think I can say pretty definitively, though, that this book has only compounded a sense that I don't really think mountaineering is for me.) ( )
  forsanolim | Jun 12, 2020 |
Excellent personal recollections of the Everest climbing disaster in 1996. A pity it wasn't used before they made the film of the disaster
  GNSPbooks | May 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 267 (next | show all)
An experienced climber himself, Mr. Krakauer gives us both a tactile appreciation of the dangerous allure of mountaineering and a compelling chronicle of the bad luck, bad judgment and doomed heroism that led to the deaths of his climbing companions.
 
it is impossible to finish this book unmoved and impossible to forget for a moment that its author would have given anything not to have to write it.
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Krakauer, Jonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Karl, AnitaMapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perria, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rackliff, RandyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragey which is actually being staged in the civilised world. —José Ortega y Gasset
Dedication
For Linda; and in memory of Andy Harris, Doug Hansen, Rob Hall, Yasuko Namba, Scott Fischer, Ngawang Topche Sherpa, Chen Yu-Nana, Bruce Herrod, and Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa
First words
Straddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet.
Quotations
Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable. John Krakauer
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish between print editions of Jon Krakauer's 1997 memoir, Into Thin Air, and the abridged audio version. Thank you.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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