Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster - Jon Krakauer

I am just one of many readers. When I give this book two stars it most accurately answers the question how did I react to the book. This is how I rate all my books. This book was OK! That is what 2 stars is said to mean on GR! That does not mean it was bad. I will explain why I have reacted as I did so hopefully you can more easily determine how you may react to the book. Why all this explanation? Because I am thinking that if I only give this book two stars that will give an unfavorable impression, and it isn’t a bad book. I am tired of everyone rating books favorably when that is not really how they reacted to the book. You see it all the time. People say they liked the book, and then give it a five star rating. A five star book is supposed to be amazing. You are supposed to leave a five star book dazzled. Sorry for that long-winded explanation, but this has been bugging me.

Jon Kraukauer is a journalist who has written for the sports magazine Outside. His climb of Mt. Everest was initiated by a request for an article on the commercialization of the mountain, the highest in the world. Such an article preceded the writing of this book, and it sets the tone for the book. I was unaware that the commercialization of Mt. Everest would be a central theme of the book. I was unaware that the book would be directed toward mountaineers and sport enthusiasts, that being because it grew from the article in the sports magazine. If you are a mountaineer yourself, you will be more interested in the detailed exposition of who has climbed which mountains and when and with which equipment. (I prefer trekking and I am not gear oriented.) The history of climbing is interesting, but here you get a rundown of each climber’s accomplishments and failures. I couldn’t keep all the different “big names” straight, and there are many, both in this excursion and in the numerous others mentioned. This information interrupts the telling of what happened in the 1996 Everest disaster, which is what drew me to the book. Who were at fault? Why did it happen What can be done to improve safety? Is there one answer? No, of course not. Sandy Pittman/Sandra Hill has written articles and spoken of her view of what happened. There is also Anatoli Boukreev’s book :The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest. In his book, Krakauer clearly criticizes Boukreev, but it was Boukreev who saved Sandy’s life. All three were there, along with so many others.

Climbing Mt. Everest has become a business, a commodity to be sold, and on that day when the storm hit there were so many people there were bottlenecks and queues up there near the summit. Mountaineering, at least on Everest, is not a solitary sport! So at the bottom lies also my dislike of “the crowd” and of a sport that seems to me ridiculous. If people choose to put their lives at risk, well then they better be prepared for the consequences. Krakauer’s belief that it might be worthwhile to forbid the use of bottled gas, which enables all too many to attempt what they are untrained to do, is not a bad idea. How do you enforce that?! Do you deter people through exorbitant fees? All of this is discussed. Very little of the book is exciting, and at the end I don’t know if I have any clear answers.

The author narrates the book himself. Not a bad job, but I did laugh at how he pronounced the Swedish mountaineer, Göran Kropp’s, first name. Someone could have told him. It is such a common name. It made me wonder if he pronounced other names incorrectly, the Sherpas’ for example.

Finally, I think this book should have made clear what draws people to the mountaineering sport. I still don’t understand that. Krakauer just says it has an attraction for some and once you are hooked, well you are hooked! I want to understand what they feel, see, experience. I only saw the business side of the whole thing. He states that the view at Everest is unexceptional, and at high altitudes you can easily destroy your body! So why do they do it? This book never answered that question for me. It cannot be for fame or recognition because so many do not succeed. So what is it?