Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
by Jon Krakauer (Goodreads Author)
5* out of 5
The sad part is that I had seen this book so many times while a bookseller at BARNES & NOBLE, but had absolutely no idea it was about. I was not familiar with the 1996 Everest disaster — hell, I really knew very little about the history of Everest or even the commercialisation of Everest that really began to take hold in the 1990s and, as we now know, has only exploded to the point that there are massive queues to reach the summit like it’s some kind of ride at Disney World.
It took me seeing the 2015 film, EVEREST, to finally find Krakauer’s book and realize what it was about. INTO THIN AIR is an incredibly gripping and heartbreaking tale of two expeditions on one adventure that, sadly, ended in tragedy. Krakauer’s own experience is something that none of us casual readers are likely to be able to properly understand — I don’t think any of us have climbed Everest and suffered such a horrific experience as the Hall and Fischer expeditions did on their descent. We can, however, empathize with the very real fear and grief that Krakauer’s extolls in his book; it is an attempt at catharsis, though I was left with the feeling that Krakauer will never truly be over his experience. How could he?
I will also note that I read this in conjunction with THE CLIMB by Anatoli Boukreev, and I do think that Krakauer makes some…unfair judgements of the man. Yes, Krakauer was rightly called out by both Boukreev, members of Fischer’s expedition, and even professional climbers, but I think of all the American high school students who read only this book and not Boukreev’s own memoir/rebuttal. They would be left thinking Boukreev, whose heroic actions saved the lives of several lost climbers who would have, without doubt, died out on the mountain, was little more than an intransigent employee who wilfully ignored his expedition leader until the point where it was beyond the 11th hour. By all accounts (save this one), that was not the case.
Reading this alongside THE CLIMB offers a more well-rounded picture of all the moving pieces that were moving, completely scattered, during the 1996 tragedy. I think of the quote that there are three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth.
In this case, I suppose only the mountain — only Everest knows the full truth.