Andrew's Reviews > Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

Left for Dead by Beck Weathers
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Dec 08, 2008

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bookshelves: one-book-per-week-08-09, collection
Recommended for: Anyone
Read in December, 2008

It's pretty rare that my opinion of a book changes dramatically over the course of reading it. Sure, a book that starts off well can turn out to be less interesting as time goes on, or a bad beginning can be saved by an increasingly good plot. But it's far less common to be considering putting the book down permanently after 100 pages, then end up enjoying it immensely by the end. Such was the case with “Left for Dead”. After the first third, I thought it was poorly written and expected the rest of the book to be boring filler. As is turned out, it just keeps getting better and better, eventually turning into a quality read that I would recommend to almost anyone.

After reading “Into Thin Air” earlier this year, I was curious to read one of the multitude of other books written about the 1996 Everest disaster, in which over a dozen people were killed in a single day by a sudden storm. Many of the those books were written in response to Krakauer's magazine article and book, which paints a fairly unflattering picture of some of the other climbers involved. I wasn't too interesting in reading books about the back and forth of differing viewpoints and opinions on who did or did not do the right thing that day. More appealing to me was “Left for Dead”, which is about the near miraculous survival of Beck Weathers. He had spent the entire duration of the storm laying in the snow, blind, frozen, and lost. When he was found the next day, he was still breathing but it was decided to leave him behind. The other climbers knew that physiologically he had no chance of survival and to attempt to rescue him would simply endanger the others. Hours later, barely conscious, he walked back to camp himself. Still at extremely high altitude and near death, the other climbers again assumed that he would pass away during the night. The next morning he insisted on walking further down the mountain with them, where he was eventually rescued by the highest altitude helicopter flight in history.

This story is related in the first hundred pages of the book. While the story itself is amazing and a true testament to the human will, the writing is simply sub-par. Characters are introduced with barely a description then not mentioned again, the pacing of the adventure is all off, and the reader just doesn't get a good feel for what it was really like up there (unlike in Krakauer's book, where the descriptions make you feel like you're on the mountain yourself). Most surprisingly of all, after the first 100 pages of a 350 page book, the Everest story is over! “What a rip off!”, I thought, where's my adventure story? I was already mentally preparing my negative review. When the following chapter started to detail his early life, I felt that the book was just going to keep getting worse.

Instead, it got a whole lot better. Weathers, his family, and friends all give personal, first person accounts of their lives leading up the expedition to Everest. The story of survival is amazing, but it becomes even more fascinating as a story about an individual, a human with flaws just like everyone else. This wasn't some athletic superhero up there; Weathers was a man suffering from depression and a danger obsession that was ruining his marriage and family. By telling the story of his life and especially his relationship with his wife (which at times is brutally honest and open) the reader starts to see the human context his which the events on Everest took place. This makes the story vastly more interesting, and Weathers' survival on Everest becomes just one part of a wonderful redemption story.

If you go into this book, as I did, expecting to read “Into Thin Air” from a different perspective, then you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are interested in a book about real people struggling with their demons and the power of life and death situations to change lives, read “Left for Dead”.
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