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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster [Paperback]

Jon Krakauer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,269 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 19 1999
National Bestseller 

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.

This updated trade paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds fascinating light on the acrimonious debate that flared between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy.  "I have no doubt that Boukreev's intentions were good on summit day," writes Krakauer in the postscript, dated August 1999. "What disturbs me, though, was Boukreev's refusal to acknowledge the possibility that he made even a single poor decision. Never did he indicate that perhaps it wasn't the best choice to climb without gas or go down ahead of his clients." As usual, Krakauer supports his points with dogged research and a good dose of humility. But rather than continue the heated discourse that has raged since Into Thin Air's denouncement of guide Boukreev, Krakauer's tone is conciliatory; he points most of his criticism at G. Weston De Walt, who coauthored The Climb, Boukreev's version of events. And in a touching conclusion, Krakauer recounts his last conversation with the late Boukreev, in which the two weathered climbers agreed to disagree about certain points. Krakauer had great hopes to patch things up with Boukreev, but the Russian later died in an avalanche on another Himalayan peak, Annapurna I.

In 1999, Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters--a prestigious prize intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment."  According to the Academy's citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer.  His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."

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Product Description

From Amazon

Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer's book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end. Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history. The author's own anguish over what happened on the mountain is palpable as he leads readers to ponder timeless questions. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

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.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, captivated me from cover to cover July 26 2014
By Pedalon
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great read, captivated me from cover to cover. It's like having a friend that lets you in on the inside scoop of what really happened at the top of the world and what really goes on in the high climb world. This book will take you on an adventure.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Thinking About It Jan. 8 2011
By MrMoe
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this novel so much that I immediately read it again after finishing it the first time. That was mostly due to the fact that the bulk of the action takes place in the last quarter of the book and by then, you're so interested in the fate of the characters, that you have to start again just to sort out all the players. I agree there was MUCH referencing back to the expedition listing pages (had to dog-ear that one) due to the enormous cast and Krakauer's penchant for jumping back and forth in the timeline.

Regardless, I am still thinking about this story days later; about the physical hardships they suffered, about those who suffered further only to ultimately die for their troubles. I still haven't concluded whether climbing Everest is pointless or purposeful. It is currently very wintery in my home town and every time I feel like complaining about the wind chill or how bad it's snowing, I think about the Hillary Step, about Beck Weathers or Neal Biedleman and what REAL cold is.

I'd like to make a note that the 5 stars goes to the story itself and the subject matter, and is not necessarily related to the author. Krakauer's writing style is agreeable and informative, and the firsthand account, however accurate, is fascinating. However I would caution Krakauer to limit his penchant for elaborate and complicated words to describe the ordinary, for no apparent reason other than to make you sprint for the dictionary in mid-paragraph. Why use `bivouac' when you can just say temporary camp or unsheltered area?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very Touching Feb. 20 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Krakauer gives a very touching and eye opening account of what can only be explained as an extremely tragic event.
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4.0 out of 5 stars excellent !!! Dec 25 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The only thing is that there is some Highlighted section in the book.... and description said there was none. Beside that, it is excellent.... nad cheap!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing read Oct. 19 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A sobering and harrowing account of a climbing disaster. As I read it, I wondered "can this get any worse?". Well, it does. This book shows clearly why guiding inexperienced people up Everest is not a good thing, and why it should perhaps be stopped entirely. What is more disturbing is how Krakauer himself was treated by others afterward. He did his best as a journalist to get all of the events factually correct. He did not deserve to be attacked for doing so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely gripping July 23 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book. It is very engrossing and makes you feel like you were there. The author tries to be fair and present all points of view.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing journalism; not the best story Nov. 2 2003
By Brian
Format:Paperback
Into Thin Air is a good read- provided you approach it the right way. If you are looking for an action-packed thrill-ride on every page, this book will disappoint you. Krakauer's style is very balanced, straight shooting, and journalistic; and the story has one major limitation- reality. As a journalist, Krakauer is obligated, perhaps by professional ethic, perhaps by personal belief, to tell his readers what actually happened. And as you probably know, the true story is not always the most interesting.
The book itself is riddled with pages of hard facts, which are probably unnecessary and uninteresting to the average reader. Krakauer delves deep into the history of Everest, from its discovery to the present, attempting to set the stage. But his lengthy, grueling descriptions make for laborious reading, as he relates every major expedition since 1924. After some initial background on the mountain, the author feeds you a liberal helping of climbing etiquette and technique. Finally, after nearly 100 pages, Krakauer and his climbing partners reach Mt. Everest Base Camp. The meat of the story is very interesting, and follows Rob Hall's expedition to summit the mountain in 1996. Numerous hardships and pitfalls will be met along the way, but reaching the top is only half the battle. It is on the way down that the real crisis begins to unfold- one month and 250 pages later.
Krakauer cites two reasons for writing this book: to tell a story which he felt needed to be told, and perhaps to gain some closure on the events which have haunted him since the day he left the mountain. He toils to remain balanced in his writing, sharing the accounts of other climbers in addition to his own. In good journalistic form, Krakauer poses questions to the reader without directly asking them.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
As part of the audience Krakauer presumably was trying to reach (non-climbers who are interested in Everest and the 1996 tragedy) I don't know all that much about climbing in general or Everest in particular. Given that, it would have been easy to applaud the book and say, great job, terrific account. Having read two (better) books on the 1996 tragedy after I read this book, I simply can't be enthusiastic about the story overall. Krakauer does a terrific job of making the experience of climbing something people who doesn't do it can relate to, but his account of the tragedy quite frankly comes across as a desperate attempt to place blame. And given his nonexistent high-altitude experience prior to this climb, Krakauer is the last person who should have been making judgments. Essentially, it's a story of "this decision was bad, that decision was bad, this person and that person were both wrong in doing this and that." Krakauer claims that everyone involved in the summit attempt, storm, and subsequent rescue attempts was operating under impaired judgment from lack of oxygen and exhaustion. One is led to wonder just exactly how he escaped these problems to pass judgment on the decisions of climbers and guides with far more Himalayan and high-altitude experience than he had. Lastly, it seems ludicrous that a man who makes a living as an author can claim to give an accurate account of the disaster when he has missed so many crucial facts. Definitely NOT the best choice if you want an objective assessment of what happened and only want to read one book about Everest in May of 1996.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Everest 16 years after
Into Thin Air - illustrated edition continues to be the book to read for any novice learning about Everest. Read more
Published on May 30 2012 by taptap
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Well written. As a non climber myself I found it very interesting as there is alot of details included to help the reader have a thorough understanding of what was really... Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2011 by nik
1.0 out of 5 stars Into Thin Air By Jon Krakauer
I wish I could review this item Into Thin Air by Jon Kakauer, but it has been a month and I have not recieved it yet. Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2009 by A. Charlies Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars My personal favourite mountaineering book of all time - a chilling and...
My personal favourite mountaineering book of all time. Krakauer provides a day-by-day journal to tell the chilling, harrowing and controversial story about the 1996 Everest season... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2009 by Jerome Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Chilling Account of the Disaster
Don't ever begin reading this book if you have to go to work the next day! This is the second book I've read by Jon Krakauer and once again he solemnly forces you to re-live a real... Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2009 by A. Saeed
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down
I picked this up and couldn't put it down. From the details I felt like I was taking each step with the climbers.

Everest has always intrigued me. Read more
Published on April 12 2009 by Bookworm
4.0 out of 5 stars Into Thin Air
Well I picked this up a few weeks ago and read it in 4 days virtually non-stop. I did not know about the 1996 tragedy and even less about Everest. Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2009 by Afshin
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