Into Thin Air: A Personal Account Of The Mt Everest Disaster (John Krakauer)

book-coverA great adventure story worth reading. On May 10 -11, 1996 a blizzard struck Mount Everest on the day when numerous individuals and groups were attempting to ascend the mountain. Eight people died that day, making it, at the time, the deadliest day in the mountain’s history. Written by a journalist, one of the strengths of the book is actually it’s lack of journalistic detachment. The author was there that day, on assignment from Outside magazine to write a story on the climb and watched several of the people he knew and became friends with, die.

There is always the danger that someone too close to a story will lose all objectivity when writing about it, but as Krakauer writes in his introduction: “Several authors and editors I respect counseled me not to write the book as quickly as I did; they urged me to wait two or three years and put some distance between me and the expedition in order to gain some crucial perspective. Their advice was sound, but in the end I ignored it – mostly because what happened on the mountain was gnawing my guts out. I thought that writing the book might purge Everest from my life” The book is powerful mainly because he is too close to the story.

This isn’t dry reporting, it’s an attempt to exorcise some demons. The first 2/3 of the book describes the events leading up to that fateful day in May. You don’t just show up at the foot of Everest and immediately climb it. At 29,028 feet above sea level, the summit of Everest rests in the troposphere at an altitude most commonly used by airliners. At that altitude, there’s only 1/3 of the amount of oxygen found at sea level and it takes weeks for the climbers to slowly acclimate in order to reduce the dangers inherent in such a climb.

Krakauer covers in detail getting to base camp and the weeks of training that went into getting the members of his group ready for the ascension and slowly builds the foundation for the events of May 10th. In-between describing the day-to-day life at base camp and his climbing group’s slow acclimation to the altitude, Krakaur intersperses a great deal of history about Everest and the earlier attempts to climb it over the years. He also gives brief character sketches of his fellow climbers and goes into detail about some of the tensions that arose between the various groups.

There’s lots of foreshadowing in this section that helps build the tension for what comes and his asides are always fascinating and informative. An avid climber himself, Krakauer also tries to explain the appeal of climbing. It’s fraught with danger and physical discomfort, but also has an irresistible draw for people like him.“There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act – a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.”

After carefully setting the stage, Krakauer spends the remainder of the book describing what happened when the blizzard struck and trapped many of the climbers on the mountain in near white out conditions. This section is well done and matches any work of fiction with it’s tension and nightmarish description of being trapped in an environment that a human being wasn’t built to survive in. The real life drama shows Krakauer is an accomplished storyteller with a clear, concise prose style. It’s also a very introspective book as Krakauer takes a look at himself and why he felt compelled to climb to the summit that day.



  1. It sounds like an amazing, and harrowing, tale. Excellent review as always, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always appreciate you’re positive comments. Thanks & Merry Christmas! 🙂


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