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Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Narrative nonfiction

Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer

Quick take

Attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act '“ a triumph of desire over sensibility.

Why I love it

Book of the Month

At the peak of Mt. Everest, 29,029 feet above sea level, the air is so thin that the brain is literally dying. And yet, nearly one thousand people attempt the summit each year, and an entire cottage industry of guides and expedition companies has sprung up to profit on the desire.

There is perhaps no greater account of what it’s really like to climb Everest than Into Thin Air. In May 1996, famed adventure writer Jon Krakauer joined an Everest expedition led by mountaineering expert Rob Hall. They summited Everest with four other teammates, just as a freak and ferocious storm covered the mountain. By the time Krakauer made it back to base camp several hours later, four of his climbing partners would be dead. In total, eight lives (including Hall’s) were lost on that fateful expedition '“ at the time, the single biggest disaster in Everest history. Krakauer’s account of this searing experience is raw and immediate. It’s both a terrible tragedy and page-turning adventure story. Worth reading on a cold snowy night this winter.

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When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn't slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning, he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn't made it back to their camp and were desperately struggling for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated.

Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world. A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall's team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people—including himself—to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer's eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.

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