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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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Member thoughts

All (976)
All (976)
Love (666)
Like (273)
Dislike (37)
1016 ratings
  • 66% Love
  • 27% Like
  • 4% Dislike
  • Newport, TN

    Great! I’ve always been curious about Everest, climbing, and the like. What kind of drive and courage it had to take to do something like that. I had never read this book until now and I’m glad I did.

  • New Orleans, LA

    I have always been mesmerized by Everest and the men & women who answer its call. This firsthand survivor’s account leads us from Everest’s origin story through the events of the fateful 1996 climb.

  • Hatfield, PA

    I'm quite picky about non fiction, but this book was astounding. I am both horrified and fascinated by what drives people to attempt to climb Everest, and this story will shock you and make you think.

  • Rochester, MN

    A harrowing tale of the doomed ‘96 Everest expedition - I couldn’t put it down! The author describes his experience so well that you feel every setback, success, and heartbreak the climbers faced.

  • bloomington, CA

    Wow!I knew I would love this one bc I loved Into The Wild.The first half was a little too detailed,technical and critical for mebut I understand why he did so.The last half went as fast as a landslide

  • Dorchester, MA

    It's hard to put into words how this made me feel. I really enjoyed reading about the history of tourism and guiding around Mount Everest, and I have always loved Krakauer's writing style/storytelling

  • Independence , MO

    Wow. I couldn't put this book down. The author does a phenomenal job of making the reader feel like they are on the mountain with these climbers. The suspense propelled the plot forward. Excellent.

  • Uniontown, PA

    The perspectives that Krakauer provides to this fascinating story makes the plot suspenseful, yet methodical, every move impacting future ones; expository, yet a gripping narrative of life and death.

  • Cumberland, RI

    Into Thin Air makes you pause for a moment to ponder what you would do in a situation that is life or death. The top of the world is beautiful and deadly. This book left me in awe of the adventure.

  • Brooklyn, NY

    I have become obsessed with Everest after reading this book. I don't know why I didn't truly understand the danger associated with the ascent to the summit until I read this - it was so eye-opening.

  • Los Angeles , CA

    A beautiful written story about a horrible tragic event. Jon Krakauer invites you into the world of climbing and gets you hooked before taking you through the horrible/surprising events of that day.

  • Midvale, UT

    I knew I wanted to read this book after seeing the movie Everest. I love non-fiction and this one delivered. Great detail, I felt like I was on the mountain with them. Definitely would recommend!

  • New York, NY

    What a whirlwind! This book took you on that climb to Everest and didn't let go. I loved everything about it. I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction but now I can't wait to see what else is out there!

  • Edmond , OK

    This was a very detailed retailing of the 1996 Everest tragedy from someone who experienced it first hand lived to tell the story. It is told so well you feel like you are there with them. Haunting

  • Wyomissing, PA

    Amazing!!! I could not imagine the mental strength these climbers had. Beautiful worded! At times I felt I could tackle Mt Everset, just an all around good, solid story! Thanks for sharing Jon!!

  • Washington, DC

    Before starting the book, I was quite familiar with the events of this expedition on Everest, and yet, it has been years since I have been so fully engrossed in a book like I was when reading this.

  • Star, NC

    I always enjoy personal accounts of those who choose to push limits - physically, emotionally, and mentally. Into Thin Air was one such account I have been meaning to read for years. It was great!

  • Miami, FL

    This book was definitely an interesting read. JK's accounting of the 96' incident really left me with both wonder and amazement at the physical and emotion journey that goes into climbing Everest.

  • Miami , FL

    I loved this book! I knew so little about Mount Everest and about climbing in general until I read this book. Incredible to read about the true stories of how difficult these climbs really are.

  • Chicago, IL

    A favorite annual read. So mind boggling - that there are places we cannot fully explore thrills and astonishes. It explores the cost of our decisions and actions on a team, in the starkest light.

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