I’ve heard of Jon Krakauer before, due to Into the Wild, which he wrote about Christopher Johnson McCandless’s death in the wilds of Alaska. I knew Krakauer had a reputation for excellent writing, but I’ve never read anything of his before. After finishing Into Thin Air, I plan to find more of his work — this book was fantastic.
“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificient activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”
Krakauer had always been a mountaineer. He tried giving it up for a bit when he first got married, but quickly found himself drawn back to the mountains. He joined an expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1996, intent on writing a magazine article about the experience, specifically the commercialization of it all — the guides, the sherpas who performed all the camp-making aspects, etc. When the expedition turned deadly, he still wrote his article, but he couldn’t seem to get his mind wrapped around it all. He suffered a lot of guilt — both for mistakes made during the climb, as well as the fact that he survived when others didn’t. A few years later, Krakauer decided to commit the whole experience to a book, in an attempt to clear his mind of it all.
Into Thin Air, to someone with absolutely no knowledge of mountain climbing (uh, me), combines lessons in how its done, the history of it all, and most strikingly, the dangers of it, in a simply fascinating read. Krakauer does a fantastic job of relaying his experience to the reader. And just like when I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I ended it thinking, “Wow, that’s a totally impressive thing that I will never, ever do”.