Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

by Jon Krakauer

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National Bestseller 

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.

This updated trade paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds fascinating light on the acrimonious debate that flared between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy.  "I have no doubt that Boukreev's intentions were good on summit day," writes Krakauer in the postscript, dated August 1999. "What disturbs me, though, was Boukreev's refusal to acknowledge the possibility that he made even a single poor decision. Never did he indicate that perhaps it wasn't the best choice to climb without gas or go down ahead of his clients." As usual, Krakauer supports his points with dogged research and a good dose of humility. But rather than continue the heated discourse that has raged since Into Thin Air's denouncement of guide Boukreev, Krakauer's tone is conciliatory; he points most of his criticism at G. Weston De Walt, who coauthored The Climb, Boukreev's version of events. And in a touching conclusion, Krakauer recounts his last conversation with the late Boukreev, in which the two weathered climbers agreed to disagree about certain points. Krakauer had great hopes to patch things up with Boukreev, but the Russian later died in an avalanche on another Himalayan peak, Annapurna I.

In 1999, Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters—a prestigious prize intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment."  According to the Academy's citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer.  His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553455892
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/1998
Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs.
Product dimensions: 5.69(w) x 4.97(h) x 0.99(d)

About the Author

Jon Krakauer is the author of eight books and has received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. According to the award citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer."

Read an Excerpt

In March 1996, Outside Magazine sent me to Nepal to participate in, and write about, a guided ascent of Mount Everest. I went as one of eight clients on an expedition led by a well-known guide from New Zealand named Rob Hall. On May 10 I arrived on top of the mountain, but the summit came at a terrible cost.

Among my five teammates who reached the top, four, including Hall, perished in a rogue storm that blew in without warning while we were still high on the peak. By the time I'd descended to Base Camp nine climbers from four expeditions were dead, and three more lives would be lost before the month was out.

The expedition left me badly shaken, and the article was difficult to write. Nevertheless, five weeks after I returned from Nepal I delivered a manuscript to Outside, and it was published in the September issue of the magazine. Upon its completion I attempted to put Everest out of my mind and get on with my life, but that turned out to be impossible. Through a fog of messy emotions, I continued trying to make sense of what had happened up there, and I obsessively mulled the circumstances of my companions' deaths.

The Outside piece was as accurate as I could make it under the circumstances, but my deadline had been unforgiving, the sequence of events had been frustratingly complex, and the memories of the survivors had been badly distorted by exhaustion, oxygen depletion, and shock. At one point during my research I asked three other people to recount an incident all four of us had witnessed high on the mountain, and one of us could agree on such crucial facts as the time, what had been said, or even who had been present. Within days after the Outside article went to press, I discovered that a few of the details I'd reported were in error. Most were minor inaccuracies of the sort that inevitably creep into works of deadline journalism, but one of my blunders was in no sense minor, and it had a devastating impact on the friends and family of one of the victims.

Only slightly less disconcerting than the article's factual errors was the material that necessarily had to be omitted for lack of space. Mark Bryant, the editor of Outside, and Larry Burke, the publisher, had given me an extraordinary amount of room to tell the story: they ran the piece at 17,000 words — four or five times as long as a typical magazine feature. Even so, I felt that it was much too abbreviated to do justice to the tragedy. The Everest climb had rocked my life to its core, and it became desperately important for me to record the events in complete detail, unconstrained by a limited number of column inches. This book is the fruit of that compulsion.

The staggering unreliability of the human mind at high altitude made the research problematic. To avoid relying excessively on my own perceptions, I interviewed most of the protagonists at great length and on multiple occasions. When possible I also corroborated details with radio logs maintained by people at Base Camp, where clear thought wasn't in such short supply. Readers familiar with the Outside article may notice discrepancies between certain details (primarily matters of time) reported in the magazine and those reported in the book; the revisions reflect new information that has come to light since publication of the magazine piece.

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.

It hasn't, of course. Moreover, I agree that readers are often poorly served when an author writes as an act of catharsis, as I have done here. But I hoped something would be gained by spilling my soul in the calamity's immediate aftermath, in the roil and torment of the moment. I wanted my account to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty that seemed in danger of leaching away with the passage of time and the dissipation of anguish.

Some of the same people who warned me against writing hastily had also cautioned me against going to Everest in the first place. 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.

The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time.

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Into Thin Air 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 701 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mount Everest is the highest mountain on the planet with its summit at 29,028 feet above sea level. Since it was first summited on June 2, 1953, many have succeeded, while others have died trying to conquer this peak. These days, many guiding companies have enabled just about anyone with a little climbing experience to climb Everest. Because of this, more and more controversies have risen out of the decisions made on top of the world. The events on Everest, especially during the 1996 climbing season, make one wonder if summiting the mountain is worth all the suffering and death that it can bring with it. Into Thin Air is a gripping story about survival and death, all caused by the tallest mountain in the world. The novel is a personal account by Jon Krakauer, who, at the time of the incident, was a journalist for Outside Magazine. It tells the story of his ascension and summiting of Mount Everest that was soon followed by a storm that killed eight people, including Rob Hall, a very experienced mountain climbing guide. This storm helped to make 1996 the most deadly year on Mount Everest. Krakauer goes into great detail about the history of climbing on Everest, the occurrences of May 10, 1996, and the controversy that surrounds the events. Throughout, he analyzes the themes of death and survival, while looking at the mountain climbing community’s varying beliefs on these ideas. He makes the reader question his or her own beliefs on these subjects as well. While he tells a great story, Krakauer does go into very great detail on everything in the novel. This makes for a very vivid and easily understood story, but at certain points, there is too much detail including facts about things that seem totally unrelated to the novel. However, Krakauer’s ability to connect his in-depth knowledge and personal mountain climbing and journalist experiences to the novel allow him a little leeway, when it comes to his overuse of detail. This book is recommended strongly to anyone who wants to read a story about mountain climbing, especially one that is true and keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat the entire time. Even someone who isn’t involved in the climbing community can find this book to be very interesting and exciting. Krakauer has the ability to bring a reader directly into an experience, as found in his other works including Into the Wild or Under the Banner of Heaven. Into Thin Air is one of the best books that I have read and if I was to rate it, it would definitely be a nine out of ten. Another great story about mountain climbing and survival can be found in the book Touching the Void.
WI-mom4 More than 1 year ago
To begin, I am not a mountaineer, have no desire to climb a mountain, and believe there are some places mortal men/women have no business being (29,000ft up the side the mountain included). With that said, I enjoyed this book very much. Understanding that it is human nature to push our physical limitations and to attempt the impossible, this story was compelling to read, kept my attention and cultivated a sideline interest for the impossible mountains men dare to climb. The side stories are interesting and give a lot to the story. The tragedy and the events leading up to it are well described and give a personal feeling that helps the reader understand and "feel" for the players of the story. Krakauer does a good job in describing the characters, giving the personal backgrounds to help readers understand the personal drives for this near impossible feat, and accounting for the "edge" that contributed to the unfortunate outcome.
TunaSF More than 1 year ago
I have watched many Everest documentaries, but this was an excellent view into the emotional and physical trauma that Everest puts on climbers. The description of the trip up to Everest was enlightening. Then the excellent descriptions and details of the landscape, base camp,the guides, Sherpas, and different teams was very interesting. It was a page turner. I wanted to read more and find out how the disaster happened. I was left with a deep feeling of sadness towards the author and the guilt he is living with. I hope that he has moved on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
..of the highest point on Earth. Jon Krakauer takes you there weaving together multiple perspectives in such a way that enhances the suspense of his first person narrative. Definitely a great read, that last hundred pages will keep you glued. What I liked most is Krakauer sense of journalism and his efforts to report unbiased information without an agenda. It is clear he went through great effort to gather as much information to tell the story as close to how it happened, attempting to account for differences of perspective and reporting to you, the reader, those differences and giving a post-mortem analysis. Truly a great read that will having you stuck in awe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fanstastic account of the tragedy on Mount Everest. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Into Thin Air takes the elements that are paired with climbing the treacherous Mount Everest and fuses them with desire of a climbing team bound to reach the summit. Jon Krakauer experiences the dangers of Everest first hand while being led by Rob Hall, a well-known guide from New Zealand. Krakauer describes the difficulties of climbing with such detail that you feel as though you’re a part of the life changing expedition. Krakauer was sent to climb Everest for Outside Magazine and soon after provide an in depth article for the editor. He and seven other clients were anxious to ascend Everest, yet didn’t quite understand the daunting task that lied ahead of them. The only part of the book that didn’t appeal to me was the beginning. There is plenty of background information about the history of Mount Everest, almost too much. It starts to really get interesting when Krakauer is asked to attend the expedition. Krakauer mentions it has always been his dream to stand on top of the world and was rightfully determined to do so. He puts the complex memories of watching some of friends die into words very well. His ability to even put events like that into words is incredible. The most impressive part of Krakauer’s writing style is such in depth explanation about events happening in the book. He adds the grueling affect that you need to fully understand the crux of the book. Krakauer basically helps you imagine the unimaginable. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone who likes challenging non-fiction books. I would give this book a 9 because of the story alone, but also the complex detail that comes with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An Awe Inspiring Read The book, Into Thin Air, written by Jon Krakaur, is a thrilling tale of one man’s journey up Everest. The author was sent out to climb Everest sponsored by Outdoor magazine and report back the results. He found that the short article requested of him in the magazine was just not enough to document the disaster on top of the world, so he wrote this boo. For me, the book went to show just how powerful Everest really is, and how the popularization of climbing it might be overrated. I enjoyed it and found the writing to be thought-provoking and flowing. I liked how the storyline basically went from the first time he ever made it up a mountain to after he made it down Everest. The character development in the story is excellent; it went to the point that I could practically visualize every character’s appearance and actions. One thing I also enjoyed about this was the author’s attention to detail and telling it just how it was. Even months after the expedition, Krakaur was still conducting interviews with other climbers who were on Everest at the same time he was. These small things add a lot to the overall feel of the book. He also was not afraid to give his opinions on people, something you don’t see often in writers. This lead to being able to tell almost exactly how each person was. I thought the depth that the author discussed his experience told a lot about how cruel and unpredictable Everest really is. It went into great detail just how unforgiving and dangerous it can get up there in a storm, even how some of his companions he had gotten to know over the weeks lost their lives. This book discusses many themes, including life and death, heroism, journey, survival, and individualism. It really makes you think about how precious life is, and how it can be taken away just like that. I would defiantly recommend this book to anyone looking to read a story about adventure, risks, and companionship. This book is sure to touch any other climbers out there also. I really feel like I began to understand Everest a lot more after this, as well as Himalayan culture. There are many things that can only be learned though personal account or experience, and this is defiantly one of those. After reading this book, I am considering reading some of Krakauer’s other works, just because I feel he tells a tale well. These include Into the Wild, as well as several articles in Outside magazine. Overall, I would give this book a nine out of ten.
Farmer2 More than 1 year ago
This book is very unusual and Jon Krakauer depicts every events in his style which is very interesting. It's an offbeat book that keeps twisting and turning and toward the end you never know what is going to happen next. Jon and all of the people go through alot and he tells the story very well.
GerreK More than 1 year ago
I have read this story over and again since it was released, and it is always riveting. The author does a fantastic job of putting one in the middle of the chaos and emotion of this experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good book, I enjoyed it even though I am a teenage girl who never has and never will go climbing up a mountain. Let alone Mt. Everest. I'm glad I picked up this book, at first I didn't really know what it was about (hints the title. That was pretty much my thought process as I looked at the book) It was good! I really like how everything was described. The details about the dangers of climbing the worlds tallest mountain. I didn't like that, the whole time I was reading it, I felt like the narrator was talking/thinking in an angry tone. That's how I imagined them to sound like. This book was pretty much about the author -Jon Krakauer- climbing up Mt. Everest during the worst season Mt. Everest has ever had. I would suggest this book to anyone who really loves to climb mountains, likes the cold or a mixture of the two. Or, if you have a friend that wants to climb Mt. Everest and you want to talk them out of it. Just have them read this book... Might make them change their mind. I know it would change mine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looking Everest in the Eye Into thin Air is a personal account of Jon Krakauer who took on the ambitious task of climbing Mt. Everest. Despite the fact that he is climbing with one of the best guides in the business, the group still faces the many personalities of Mt. Everest. Having not slept for 57 hours straight, and suffering everyday from oxygen depletion Jon manages to reach the summit of Everest. He was the first to reach the summit but to his dismay he saw frightening storm clouds on the horizon. This would cause a messy end to what started out as an unforgettable journey. Throughout the book Jon writes a lot about the trials he faces and his thoughts while experiencing them. For instance Jon endures the brutality of acclimatization at one point he had such a pounding headache he slept for 6 hours in order to relieve the pain. He knew how hard change would be but despite all of his doubts he was able to power through which brought to surface a new man, a man ready to face life and all of its obstacles. A constant theme throughout the book is teamwork everything you do on Everest is done working with someone or working beside someone and the climb is going to be much harder going at it solo. In order to climb Jon had to prepare; and much of his book is focused on the important role preparation plays in taking on such a task. On top of the material preparation there comes physical preparation. Fitness plays a big role in Into Thin Air, and when I say fitness I don't mean just physical but mental too. Jon learns first hand that your mental fitness is half the battle, if you want to complete the climb and still be alive to tell about it in the end. Into Thin air is a story of epic proportion unfortunately there’s always something in a story that people are just going to dislike and for me that thing was the build up. Now this may make me seem completely insane for basically saying I dislike a good portion of this book but listen to what I have to say. The main reason why I disliked the build up was one, because I felt like it was never going to end, I was almost sure I would make it to graduation before I finished the build up. Number two is that I felt like it was almost over detailed at times and for me and can get a little wearisome. There is in fact many things that I enjoyed about this book. I loved Krakauer's use of quotes at the beginning of each chapter, It really set the tone and gave you insight as to what each chapter was about. I also thoroughly enjoyed how personal he made it, he made me feel as if I was taking the adventure with him. Overall I would definitely recommend this book to those who love the outdoors It will definitely satisfy your craving for thrill.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must read book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic telling of a horrible situation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My DeviantArt username is Fritrzmoon. I really don't get on that much, but I have a few things on there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stories about man vs. nature are always intriguing to me. This one didn't let me down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Last summer I had the opportunity to read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. When I first picked up this book, i did not think it would interest me since it is non-fiction and i tend to lean more towards mystery and fiction. A few chapters in though, i was captivated by Krakauer's story. The story of this motley crew of adults venturing into the Himalayas and all the horrors and woes it holds... it's amazing. Afterwards, I felt myself craving to attempt the fatal summit. John Krakauer has a way with his words; he seems to conjure up images so vivid I felt as if i were there. The most horrible yet fascinating fact of the novel was it all indeed occurred and this narrator exists. These people were/are alive and did experience what was described as a thrilling and treacherous expedition. Every page left me lingering for more. Honestly I can say this is in my top 10 favorite novels of all time & i highly recommend it.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Captivating! I couldn't put it down.
BrittsBookClub 10 months ago
Mount Everest has always been known as the largest mountain in the world, climbed by so few people. To be a seen as a true mountain climber, one must have climbed this powerful mountain. In May 1996, many such climbers were attempting this feat when a powerful storm tore through the mountain. In Into Thin Air, written by Jon Krakauer, we get a first-hand account of just what happened on the Mount Everest during that deadly month. Using interviews and his own personal experience, Jon takes us with him onto the mountain and through the storm that claimed five lives and drastically altered many more. This book took me a little while to get into, but once Jon really started to tell the story of the events of May 1996, I was hooked. The beginning was more of an explanation and history of Mount Everest and the first people to start climbing the mountain. While it was interesting and I understand that a background is necessary for this story, I found myself picking up other books because there wasn’t anything that had really captured my attention quite yet. However, once Jon starts telling his story there was no putting the book down for me. I thought he did an incredible job of removing his own biases and acknowledging his own shortcomings (which I’m sure was incredibly hard to do). I loved the chronological order of the story, which helped me to really feel as if I was part of this journey with them. It is incredible to think that all of these small mistakes and errors, probably due to high altitude and hypoxia, could have such damaging effects when up against a powerful storm. I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars only because the beginning wasn’t my favorite, but I do understand that you need to give background for a story such as this. I think the story was incredible and honest and showed how scary and confusing the disaster of May 1996 really was. If you enjoy non-fiction and find Mount Everest even the least bit interesting, I recommend this book to you.
alyssama121 12 months ago
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Either I need to stop listening what my friends say about required reading, or I should raise my expectations of “classics.” (Or both.) Into Thin Air is both thrilling and terrifying. Not that I was considering it, but I will now never take mountain climbing as a hobby — especially mountains where high-altitude sickness is a problem. Krakauer includes the history of Mount Everest along with the day-to-day events of his expedition, which added an interesting, enjoyable element to the novel. Not only was I reading a great story, I felt like I was learning a lot too. Into Thin Air is a tragic story that is wonderfully told. The level of detail included in the descriptions is remarkable. I felt like I was climbing Everest with the author, going through the same psychological and physical torture. I also got to know those who climbed with him, sharing in their successes and failures. I want to note that there is a controversy as to whether the events happened like Krakauer said they happened; I am sure, with all that was going on at the time, that there are discrepancies with events, but I doubt that they are serious since he also interviewed multiple people who were there as well. I would recommend this book for anyone who is at all interested in adventure or memoirs. If you’re squeamish, you should maybe stay away, since there are descriptions of some pretty awful sights and diseases (I got queasy more than a few times). However, I think that Into Thin Air is a novel most people will find a worthwhile read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After finishing the book I'm filled with thoughts of those that were lost and wondering how the survivors are doing today. I hope they are well. Thank you for sharing your experience with us readers. I'm grateful for an insight into a part of life and the world I may never experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have read, and reread, and it’s enthralling each time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a high school sophomore student and I read this book for a research project in my English class. I thought thought that this book really captured the emotion that the author felt while he was experiencing everything that happened in the book. Since we don't truly see conflict until farther on in the story, I thought that Krakauer did an amazing job of reporting all the tragic events that occurred. It was a honest account of what someone would go through if they were to climb Everest. He had lots of imagery which helped to feel as though the reader was there experiencing what he was. His choice of words and his purposeful use of detail made the story all the more better. Krakauer had me on my toes in many parts of his account. His story was very detailed and enjoyable. The message throughout the entire book is to push yourself past your own limitations and do things you never expected you could do. He really fought for his life descending Everest and having a near death experience. His message throughout the book is inspiring. I would definitely read this book again and recommend it to a friend.
DSlongwhite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't actually read this book. David and I listened to it as a book on tape going from CT to Pittsfield delivering furniture to Laurel and then to and from CT getting/delivering furniture to Karen.The book was riveting and the detail was astounding. I kept wondering - how did he ever remember so much or id he actually keep a journal while all of this was going on?In 1996, Jon was asked by a magazine to accompany a climbing expedition to Mount Everest and to write about his experiences. It was thought that too many inexperienced climbers were climbing Everest for monetary gain to guides. Each climber paid between $50,000 - $60,000.The main focus of the book has to do with a blizzard hitting just after they made it to the top. What these people went through was beyond belief.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A simply sterling account of the disaster on Everest in 1996. It is a very matter-of-fact,yet moving, narrative based on Krakauer's own experience as a member of Rob Hall's climbing team that year. However, you can sense the author's anguish as he has to reply the events over and over in his own mind, faced with survivor guilt when all was said and done, wondering if perhaps mistakes he made unwittingly may have contributed to the tragedy. An astounding book; I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I think anyone would enjoy this book and like me, hopefully it would spur you on to further reading not only about the events of 1996, but to reading about exploring Everest in general.
whitebalcony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting book. Compelling to read yet I would never want to do this myself. And why can't they start taking the trash out when they leave? That part of this ego-maniacal sport really irks me.