Into Thin Air was written by Jon Krakauer, also author of Into The Wild, Eiger Dreams, Iceland, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Where Men Win Glory. I have read Into The Wild, and now Into This Air (obviously), and Jon is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.
Into Thin Air is the true story of the 1996 Everest disaster, when, on the 10th and 11th of May, eight people lost their lives attempting to summit the infamous mountain. Jon was part of a team lead by the New Zealander Rob Hall, a highly accomplished mountaineer, and one of the unfortunate climbers who lost their lives. In the book, Jon relives the tragic events that took place, offers insights into what did and what may have gone wrong up there, what could have been done differently, and goes quite in-depth into the post-event research he did to match up times and details of the things that happened. The tales he tells are spine-chilling, especially things like describing altitude sickness, how quickly your brain slows at high altitudes, frost bite, and how Everest is littered with bodies, too high up to safely retrieve.
As a journalist, it would be natural to think that Jon’s style of writing would be very matter-of-fact and straight forward, but his style is nothing of the sort. I find his writing not only really informative and well argued, but full of insight, integrity and heart. It is obvious that Jon really puts himself into his writing, especially evident in this story, one that he was actually a part of, and one that obviously deeply affected him. I also found it very interesting to read about the opinions surrounding the commercialisation of Everest, the problems and perks of tourism, and the underground community that is mountaineering.
I’m a big fan of the tastefully minimalist book cover, and the title page of each chapter features beautiful lino-print style illustrations.
While I really enjoyed this book, I think, because of the controversy surrounding the events in the book, it would be worthwhile reading the other books written about the disaster. For people interested in other perspectives, check out The Climb; Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev, Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest by Beck Weathers (who got seriously bad frost bite on the expedition and almost died), Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard, and After the Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy, One Survivor’s Story by Lou Kasischke. This is not to suggest that I in any way doubt Jon’s truthfulness, I just think that it is always worthwhile reading different perspectives. Since Jon wrote this story, he has received both praise and animosity from all sides. You’ll read about that in the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in non-fiction, in mountaineering, in adventure, in travel, or even just interested in hearing the perspectives of someone who has gone through a truly tragic event. If anything, Into Thin Air book just reinforced and increased the respect I have for mountains, and did not pique my interest to climb Mount Everest in the least.