Chris Heaney's Reviews > Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
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Sep 24, 2007

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Read in September, 2007

I don't know how I feel about this book, an account of an expedition to Everest that killed several people. It made me angry when I suspected it would just end up being disaster porn, but Krakauer manages to pull through in the final pages and evoke the wrenching guilt of the survivors, the loss and unanswered questions. That hit me pretty hard.

So why three stars? I wanted more about the people who died, more in other people's voices, and less straight narration of events. (Or perhaps just a mix of the two.) I do understand the simple ordering of what happened was necessary, even cathartic for Krakauer (or perhaps it gave him no resolution), but I wanted something more like a testament to the individuals up there, like he did for McCandless in Into the Wild.

Also, as always, I'm torn between thinking that this kind of exploration is wonderful and that it's just another code-driven bloodsport inflicted by the wealthy upon the world (and its sherpas), and which folks like Krakauer end up making a lot of money from.

Still, it's a fast read, sharply told, and a good meditation on disaster and guilt. And it has a scary and sad epigraph worth sharing, on how one explains any sort of disaster:

"I shall be inevitably be asked for a word of mature judgement on the expedition of a kind that was impossible when we were all up close to it... On the one hand, Amundsen going straight there, getting there first, and returning without the loss of a single man, and without having put any greater strain on himself and his men than was all in the day's work of polar exploration. On the other hand, our expedition, running appalling risks, performing prodigies of superhuman endurance, achieving immortal renown, commemorated in august cathedral sermons and by public statue, yet reaching the Pole only to find our terrible journey superfluous, and leaving our best men dead on the ice. To ignore such a contrast would be ridiculous: to write a book without accounting for it a waste of time." -- Apsley Cherry-Garrard, "The Worst Journey in the World," an account of Robert Falcon Scott's doomed 1912 expedition to the South Pole
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Sarah Harris I think that the individual that he put under the microscope on this book (as he did mccandless in Into the Wild) was himself. Although, to be honest, I think investigating McCandless was investigating himself as well (he is not subtle about making the connection between his trip to Alaska as a young man and that of McCandless). But this is the reason why you don't get an in depth of Beck W. etc. Also, I don't think these people really got to know each other on the mountain, and then once it was over, everyone was suspicious and wouldn't have opened up.

I think he tried to tell you the story and let you make the conclusions about the motivations etc. because he was way to close to figure it out himself. This is just a very different book. He wasn't going to defend because he felt so guilty. Into the Wild is a defense of Chris McCandless--he never really gets into how heartless the kid was to leave his sister and parents without a note, etc.

Liams I strongly agree with your review.
It also hit me very hard.

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