Sunday, April 27, 2014

Into Thin Air, Everest Book Review

Into Thin Air is to date the most popular book about climbing Mount Everest and that is intriguing considering it centers around one of the worst Mount Everest catastrophes ever.  While it's true that real life disasters will often draw a reading audience; the author who is chosen to document them is held up to certain standards like personal reliability, accountability, and responsibility.  This is particularly true concerning the tragedy presented in this story, where dreams for the price of several thousands of dollars are at stake.  As a survivor overcoming dangerous conditions, Krakauer's harrowing tale became a quick controversy when published.  Krakauer's experience with Mount Everest began in the spring of 1996, at the peak of what is known as the summit season.

As one picks this book up off the shelf it is likely that he or she might be judgmentally tempted to set it back down.  Yes, some audiences are drawn to tragedy but hoards of others settle for pick-me-up reads.  Another hurdle for a reader new to the nonfiction, adventure sports section is; why do people want to climb Everest?  These people must be nuts.  Krakauer, an outdoors man, tackles this immediately by sharing his own history and encounters with mountain climbing and hiking and his initial lack of enthusiasm when first confronted with this daunting proposition.  In the end, his decision to accept climbing Mount Everest was propelled by both a desire to report this cutting-edge opportunity as a journalist and a desire to continue furthering his athleticism.  There was a story to cover and his bid to climb would be paid for and expertly led by one guide, or another.

With the release of Into Thin Air, Krakauer's actions were not without criticism.  He had to pass by others in the death zone who were likely already consumed by their drunken, oxygen starved mental states.  He agonizingly details those moments as they occurred.  In the end, it is hard to accuse a survivor; one who could have just as easily lingered too long on the rooftop of the world only to stammer and freeze or stumble off. 

Jon Krakauer has an effortless ability to utilize quotes to preface chapters in a way that is both holistic and concise for the given chapters.  This book exhibits many of them and they are apt.  These quotes are derived from several climbing predecessors or legends, such as Eric Shipton and Sir Edmund Hillary, as they documented and examined their own unique conquests.  Included within them is the notion that the mountain has not changed much; only the methods used to summit it have.

Krakauer did respect the fallen as well as accentuate positive elements that existed before the deadly storm encapsulated them.  He paid tribute to the lost guides, Sherpas, and both expert and novice climbers.  Rest assured, if you haven't already read this book (and are entirely skeptical); after you read it you will not want to climb Mount Everest any more than when you first picked it up.  That is a relief. 

No matter how you read the book, Krakauer's encounter reminds us there will always be questions raised for the survivors in life or death situations where others' lives are lost.  In the end, our attention is drawn to the top of the mountain where two competing, seemingly-expert guides never escaped the freezing storm as it worsened before their eyes, looming in front of each step.  It is hard to forget them.  It is difficult to put down a book that both celebrates the passion and drive of these mountaineers as it simultaneously exposes their folly in overextending and misjudging their own abilities or mental states.  This was their final attempt at achieving greatness by reaching the top of the world.