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Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  448 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
On the evening of July 27, 1985, five hikers made a fateful choice to climb Yosemite's fabled Half Dome, even as the sky darkened and thunder rolled. By night's end, two would be dead from a lightning strike, three gravely wounded, and desperate EMTs would be overseeing a harrowing midnight helicopter rescue. Shattered Air is a haunting account of recklessness, tragedy, co ...more
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Published October 1st 2007 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published June 1st 2005)
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Feb 12, 2016 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition


Recognizing my penchant for hiking and exploration of the natural world, a co-worker highly recommended this account of tragedy and loss during an ascent of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in July 1985.

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Ansel Adams popularized Half Dome with his hauntingly beautiful black and white photographs of the sheer face of granite on one side and the rounded edges of the remainder of what looks like a dome cut in half.

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Half Dome has become such a popular hiking destin
Kris Madaus
Jun 09, 2010 Kris Madaus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I have climbed Half Dome before, and I have had experiences with lightning on other sierra peaks, I couldn't help but pick up this book. Although I didn't care for the author's style in the first few chapters, and the people he wrote about are not people I would associate with, the actual account of the event on the Dome was intriguing. I couldn't put it down.

This is a story about the repercussions of complete stupidity. I understand that people make mistakes sometimes, but this was Russi
May 15, 2012 Theresa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another in the genre of "people doing stupid things in high places" -- my morbid fascination with stories of wilderness survival push me to indulge in such reads every once in a while and, having hiked up to the top of Half Dome myself (who hasn't), I was intrigued that someone actually went to the trouble to write a book about it. The story goes like this: In 1985, a party of arrogant idiots hiked to the top of Half Dome during the apex of a remarkably violent thunderstorm, despite common sense ...more
Jul 15, 2008 Tyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've learned many things from this book, but mainly, do not go on top of a peak or in a cave during a lightning storm. This book was very informative while still keeping me on the edge of my seat. A truly great read...
Mar 14, 2008 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good, but scary book involving poor decision-making and the power of nature. More frightening since it was based on a real story, but also interesting info about the medical effects of being struck by lightening.
Dec 31, 2014 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 100+ pages are boringgggggg
you can skip without missing much, or read later if you wish.

The author has a scattered style of writing,
he starts to tell you something about the "accident",
then wanders off to tell something about 19th century history,
1930's history, 1940's, 1950's...............

Info about 2nd rate pop & rock groups of the 80's,
Reagan, Gorby, etc etc etc......

Then gives a few pages about the extant story.
Very poorly organized.

He tells a story about 2 guys climbing the
Paul Pessolano
Feb 26, 2015 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Shattered Air” by Bob Madgic, published by Burford Books.

Category – Sport/Mountaineering Publication Date – January 01, 2011

This book is subtitled, “A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite’s Half Dome”.

The first part of the book gives a background of the people who will be caught in a horrific day on a mountain that will see both stupidity and courage come to the forefront.

Yosemite’s Half Dome does not provide a real challenge to get to the top, but it does take conditioning and s
Oct 23, 2012 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book on famous event that occurred on Half-Dome. It also includes some excellent background information on lightning, a brief history of Yosemite and Half-Dome, and climbing.

While reading you can sense that disaster was coming even if you did not know the eventual outcome. You think, “How can people be this reckless?” Clearly in this case thrill-seeking and ego took over their better judgment, and it cost people their lives. The courage and quick action of the would-be rescuers in an overwh
Sep 26, 2012 Jami rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is quite an interesting account of the tragedy that occurred on the summit of Half Dome in 1985. I've read many stories of dangerous mountain climbing adventures; however, the fact that the careless behavior of several young men led to the deaths of two and severe injury to two others seems such a waste. What can be taken from Madgic's retelling is that Mother Nature deserves complete respect. Lightning is not something to be challenged. It will always win. This is a great read for anyone w ...more
Joel Horn
Feb 21, 2014 Joel Horn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up when I was deployed to Iraq.
As a person that enjoys learning about a great many subjects this book covered a lot of ground in general education. He did his research well. He followed a true story and in the process gave a informed understanding of everything that tied into the story. If you want a quick fast action book that you forget weeks after reading it this book is not for you.
If you read to learn and understand this is a great book.
Nov 20, 2011 Pegggggy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just read this pretty much in one sitting (the things I get up to when home alone! ). What a powerful story. I knew someone involved - Steve White from my early days at IBM. I always remembered his story, and he was interviewed for the book and quoted in there. A few years later we turned back at the cables because a storm was threatening. I did get there eventually - 1998 I think, the only time I've been to the top of half dome.
Jul 01, 2008 Connie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author did a great job in recounting this story. The main characters are unlikable and arrogant but I enjoyed the way it was written. I imagine it's difficult to take unlikeable characters and make the reader want to invest their time and energy into a story and yet that is exactly what happened with me. I highly recommned this book to the outoorsy set!
May 12, 2007 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book!
Great treatment of what happens when struck by lightening.
Very interesting account of those that were killed and injured in this devestating tragedy.
I just was in Yosemite in early June, and his description of the park and it's beautiful sites was wonderful. Highly recommended!
Jun 02, 2009 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was such an amazing book! It is a really amazing and eerie non-fictional tale of backpackers who hike half dome during a terrible storm.

The author gives the reader a lot of background knowledge then eventually building up to this life changing event.

I regularly visit Yosemite and half participated in this hike so I think that made me enjoy it even more.
May 22, 2009 Bart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bad decisions can sometimes have fatal consequences. This story details what happened when five young men chanced fate and hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite during a thunderstorm. Lightening struck the summit twice and two of the five were killed and two others were left with horrible injuries. An interesting read detailing the lives of the hikers involved that day in 1995.
John Beynon
Gripping narrative about 5 young men who climb Half Dome in Yosemite National park during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes them as they seek shelter in a rock enclosure. Throughout, the reader learns about the dangers of lightning, including how to care for oneself and others during a lightning storm or strike.
Nov 03, 2012 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book! It had Yosemite history, packed with good information and told the story of the Half Dome tragedy well. I have a greater respect for storms and lightening after reading this. I also have a greater admiration for my family members that have climbed Half Dome.
Liz Parissenti
On July 26-27, 1985, lightning struck Half Dome. When the storm passed, there were injuries, fatalities, heroes, and shattered lives.

I have been waiting to read this book for over a year, and I'm glad I learned more about the raw power of lightning and how it impacted people on Half Dome in 1985. Bob Madgic lays out the details of each character and their role in the events, almost to an excessive degree. I felt that the story and the people were interesting, as was the historical and medical i
This is not a well written book. The first half skips over itself time and time again, wandering down tangent after tangent. It sets itself up to tell the story of the men who trapped themselves on te top of half some in 1985 and got stuck by lightening but probably that story doesn't quite need an entire book so the front half is weighted down with a myriad of other information, such as history of Yosemite and information about lightening strikes. It's a little tedious at times because once the ...more
Aug 09, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story about a one-second event. Lightening struck five guys on Half Dome—three were injured, two died. The author did a pretty good job of telling the tale, dividing it into three sections: (1) the lives of the young subjects before lightening struck, (2) the events surrounding the strike, and (3) life after the tragedy. The book was somewhat slow getting off the ground with descriptions of how the group was behaving like typical youths—reckless, substance-abusing, impetuous losers who ...more
Oct 19, 2012 Janette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This author did lots of research...He gives the history of Yosemite starting with the Indians, a history of hiking and climbing in Yosemite, a history of the famous climbs and 1st climbs and hikes of Half Dome. He describes the late 70's and early 80's. He explains what happens in thunderstorms and describes all the different kinds of lightening, details what happens when lightening strikes objects and people. He tells about all the deaths related to lightening in Yosemite's history. He describe ...more
Mar 01, 2009 Autumn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't have time to put this book on my currently reading list, because I read it in about 2-3 days! It was a fantastic book. And here's the reason that I gave it 5 stars. It changed my mind about my husband going hiking and backpacking. In the past I would worry about him making it back home alive. Now I see in this book a couple of yahoos leading this expedition of blind followers to catastrophe. My husband is neither a yahoo or a blind follower. He is very thoughtful in his planning of trip ...more
May 21, 2010 Janet rated it really liked it
Audio version read by the author. Normally I steer clear of writer/readers, but Madgic did an OK job on this...straight forward narration without any drama.

Madgic is to be commended for meticulous research and for the inclusion of detailed and interesting facts (although more editing would have been appreciated in several instances, especially in the background info about Esteban). And why wasn't it obvious that such a book cries out for an Index?

That aside, the story was riveting; I read it in
Jan 06, 2009 Annette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm looking forward to hiking up Half Dome this summer. As a part of my preparation, I'm running, working out at the gym and taking hikes. I thought I'd also watch some videos on Yosemite and read some books -- like this one, Shattered Air, about a group of hikers back in '85 that got struck by lightning while on top of Half Dome. This is a great non-fiction book, whether you'll ever hike to The Dome or not.

The book gives great insight to the minds and motivations of the hikers and a great deta
Mihai Giurgiulescu
My neighbor, who is also an outdoor enthusiast, handed me this book as a result of a discussion we had on hiking in the Sierras. I blasted through it in about four days, looking to return it as soon as possible. The story of the 1985 tragedy was interesting - I had never heard about this incident despite years of adventuring all over the Sierras. At the same time, I didn't find it incredible either. Bravado, stupidity and disregard of the most basic safety rules could only result in someone gett ...more
Nov 29, 2008 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
This, to me, was another example of putting the lives of experts at risk to save nincompoops. Five "experienced" climbers decided to climb Yosemite's Half-Dome. Despite warnings along the trail they continued in the face of an oncoming storm. Two died from lightning strikes and three others were severely injured. Med-Evac helicopters made heroic flights at extreme risk to get two of the injured down and safely off to hospitals. The pilot was forced to use only slivers of moonlight and he had no ...more
Diane Samdahl
Sep 10, 2009 Diane Samdahl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even if it wasn't true, this book would be a good story. Knowing that these events really occurred adds to its edginess. Madgic recounts the story of a group of young men who recklessly tackled Half Dome in spite of an impending thunderstorm, and of the heroic efforts to rescue them after lightening strikes. Madgic effectively captured the carefree invincibility of adolescents as well as the incomprehensibly powerful forces of nature--oh wait, this was a true story wasn't it! Kudos to Madgic for ...more
I was very excited to read this book because it focuses on lightning - a weather event that is dangerous and misunderstood. I was also excited about the local focus on Yosemite and the Bay Area. I really enjoyed the story, but I was disappointed in the writing. I felt it needed more editing in terms of language and arrangement, and I found this frustrating. Some tangents seemed misplaced as well. I would have liked it to be a bit richer and developed in language - especially during the dramatic ...more
You should probably avoid this book if tales of stupid machismo piss you off. On the other hand, it's sort of satisfying in a schadefreude kind of way that the main machismo-performer reaps what he sows. On the third hand, so do several innocent people who, unluckily for them, trusted him to know what he was doing. Reading about that was painful. I'd have preferred fewer biographical details in the long slow lead-up to the action, but the chapters on the science of thunderstorms and lightning en ...more
Jun 27, 2016 Boris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some interesting background on the history of Yosemite, mountaineering and rock climbing, the nature of lightning strikes and a brief summary of other mishaps that occurred in Yosemite and elsewhere.

The first third of the book was devoted to the biographies of some utterly uninteresting drug-using and drifting young men who developed a taste for partying in the great outdoors and had no problem offending other park visitors with boorish and offensive behavior. They were utterly reckless and caus
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“Despite the dangers and discomforts, climbing is for many an all-consuming passion. They interrupt, end, or never start their careers, focusing exclusively on completing the next climb. Climber Todd Skinner said free climbing means "going right to the edge" of your capabilites. For many climbers, this closeness to death - the risk of dying - produces an adrenaline rush that most other life experiences simply can't. It is what keeps many of them married to the sport. Probably no other sport creates such a feeling of oneness with Mother Nature. Attached to a mountainside by fingertips and toes, the climber necessarily becomes part of the rock - or else. One climber says that while scaling a granite face, she felt close to God, so intense was her relationship with the natural world.
Climbers speak of "floating" or "performing a ballet" over the rock, each placement of foot and each reach into a crack creating unity with the mountain. The sport is one of total engagement with the here-and-now, which frees the mind from everything else. Climbers' concentration is complete and focused. Their only thought is executing the next move...
Ken Bokelund... said: "Climbing for me has always been the strength of the body over the weakness of the mind. If you train so that you are very strong physically and you have mastered the techniques, then all that's left is believing. Freeing your mind of fear is the key. This is very difficult to do, but when you can achieve it, then you are in true harmony with the rock. Fear is just one more thing to worry about and is very distracting. It can make you fall...
...when you know you are strong enough to complete any maneuver, once that level of physical confidence is achieved, then you are able to put fear out of your mind. Climbing becomes a very simple pleasure. It's just you and the rock. It's a total clarity of being, a time when nothing matters, you're moving without any thought, you're in a place where time stands still. Even when you're on a wall for days, when you get down, everything seems exactly the same, as though time never passed.”
“The most important thing is to never give up." Adrian Esteban” 2 likes
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