Into thin air A personal account of the Mount Everest disaster

Jon Krakauer

Book - 1997

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New York : Villard 1997.
1st ed
Physical Description
xx, 293 p., [4] p. of plates : ill
Includes bibliographical references.
Main Author
Jon Krakauer (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ A handful of people have stood atop Everest, and Krakauer is one of them. Sent to Nepal in May_ 1996 after his success with Into the Wild (1995), he was to report on the commercialization of ascents of the mountain but was instead compelled to tell an icy story of survival and death. As an inquiry into the outer limits of human strength and into the inner turmoil of survivor's guilt, Krakauer's narrative leaves a reader virtually breathless, sweating as he sweats, gasping as he gasps, crying as he cries over dying friends. The disaster made worldwide headlines last year, and its immediate cause was natural--a freak blizzard caught dozens of people near the summit. But the enabling condition was the mere presence at Everest of amateurs, some with minimal mountaineering skill. Guides, Sherpas, and $65,000 was all one needed to make the attempt. At the summit, the pressures of the guide-client relationship were immense, even overwhelming the imperative to flee the storm that overwhelmed the victims. Krakauer's eyewitness to the unfolding tragedy makes a transfixing drama of hubris, responsibility, and sacrificial heroism, which will mark the memory of all who read it. ((Reviewed April 1, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Review by Choice Reviews

The 1996 climbing season on Mt. Everest was a tragic one: 12 people died in May alone. Nine of them, many of whom were clients and guides in two commercial expeditions, died in a single, two-day storm. Author Krakauer, an experienced climber and accomplished writer, was a member of one of the commercial expeditions working as a reporter for Outside magazine. The deaths and Krakauer's subsequent magazine article caused a public debate on the role of guided expeditions to the world's highest mountain. This book is Krakauer's complete account of the events surrounding these deaths. His sensitive and clear narrative gives an excellent portrayal of the motivations, psychology, physical difficulties, and sociology associated with expeditions such as these. The major weakness of this volume is the illustrations, few but adequate. Well recommended for a general readership, as are Krakauer's other books (Eiger Dreams, 1990; Into the Wild, 1996). Copyright 1999 American Library Association

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Krakauer, a rising authority on all things wild (e.g., Into the Wild, LJ 11/15/95), here tells of a harrowing climb on Mount Everest, during which eight people died. Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

On May 19, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay achieved the impossible, becoming the first men to stand on top of Mount Everest. But by May 10, 1996, climbing the 29,000-foot "goddess of the sky" had become almost routine; commercial expeditions now littered Everest's flanks. Accepting an assignment from Outside magazine to investigate whether it was safe for wealthy amateur climbers to tackle the mountain, Krakauer (Into the Wild, LJ 11/15/95) joined an expedition guided by New Zealander Rob Hall. But Krakauer got more than he bargained for when on summit day a blinding snowstorm caught four groups on the mountain's peaks. While Krakauer made it back to camp, eight others died, including Scott Fischer and Hall, two of the world's best mountaineers. Devastated by the disaster, Krakauer has written this compelling and harrowing account (expanded from his Outside article) as a cathartic act, hoping it "might purge Everest from [his] life." But after finishing this raw, emotionally intense book, readers will be haunted, as Krakauer was, by the tragedy. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/97; two other survivors, Sandy Hill Pittman and guide Anatoli Boukreev, are publishing their own accounts. Ed.] Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

What set out to be a magazine article on top-of-the-line tours that promise safe ascents of Mt. Everest to amateur climbers has become a gripping story of a 1996 expedition gone awry and of the ensuing disaster that killed two top guides, a sherpa and several clients. "Climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain," writes Krakauer (Into the Wild). "And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium and suffering... most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace." High-altitude climbers are an eccentric Olympian idealists, dreamers, consummate sportsmen, egomaniacs and thrill-seekers. Excerpts from the writings of several of the best-known of them, including Sir Edmund Hillary, kick off Krakauer's intense reports on each leg of the ill-fated expedition. His own descriptions of the splendid landscape are exhilarating. Survival on Mt. Everest in the "Dead Zone" above 25,000 feet demands incredible self-reliance, responsible guides, supplemental oxygen and ideal weather conditions. The margin of error is nil and marketplace priorities can lead to disaster; and so Krakauer criticizes the commercialization of mountaineering. But while his reports of guides' bad judgments are disturbing, they evoke in him and in the reader more compassion than wrath, for, in the Dead Zone, experts lose their wits nearly as easily as novices. The intensity of the tragedy is haunting, and Krakauer's graphic writing drives it home: one survivor's face "was hideously swollen; splotches of deep, ink-black frostbite covered his nose and cheeks." On the sacred mountain Sagarmatha, the Nepalese name for Everest, the frozen corpses of fallen climbers spot the windswept routes; they will never be buried, but in this superb adventure tale they have found a fitting monument. Author tour. (May) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

YA Krakauer's story is one of foolishness and fatal error, heroism and sacrifice, triumph over adversity and human frailty. What started out as an assignment for Outside magazine on "commercial" expeditions to Mt. Everest suddenly turned into a bone-chilling tale of man against nature when a hurricane-strength blizzard battered the slopes, trapping four expeditions on the mountain. The high-altitude conditions, which can be deadly in the best of times, when combined with the intensity of the blizzard resulted in nine deaths, five from New Zealander Rob Hall's expedition of which Krakauer was a member. The author intertwines his spellbinding account with the history of those who previously tackled Mt. Everest's formidable 29,028 feet. This tense, harrowing story is as mesmerizing and hard to put down as any well-written adventure novel. An excellent addition for school and public libraries, especially those needing adventure/survival or journalism materials. John Lawson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Heroism and sacrifice triumph over foolishness, fatal error, and human frailty in this bone-chilling narrative in which the author recounts his experiences on last year's ill-fated, deadly climb. Thrilling armchair reading. (Nov.) Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The author describes his spring 1996 trek to Mt. Everest, a disastrous expedition that claimed the lives of eight climbers, and explains why he survived

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The author of Into the Wild describes his spring 1996 trek to Mt. Everest, an expedition that ended in disaster, claiming the lives of eight climbers, and explains why he survived, in a definitive, firsthand account of the tragedy. 150,000 first printing. Tour.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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 desperately struggling 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.Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world.  A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall's team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.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 eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.Into the Wild is available on audio, read by actor Campbell Scott.