Thursday, October 15, 2009

Into Thin Air

I thought my friend Elaine had recommended this to me, but in fact she recommened Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild - I ended up getting Into Thin Air. It's not the sort of book I would normally pick up, but I did need an adventure book for the Genre Challenge and I thought it might be interesting. I now feel like I learned a bit more about the world, a feeling I love.

Into Thin Air is Krakauer's account of the disaster that struck his and several other expeditions while they were climbing Mount Everest in 1996. Krakauer is a journalist and was doing a piece for a magazine - although he'd always been into mountain climbing so couldn't refuse the chance to climb Everest anyway. He joined one of the commercial expeditions and off he went. Thankfully, he also came back to tell the tale, although it's a story of eight climbers dying and many others only barely surviving...

First of all, I didn't know that there were commercial expeditions! I didn't know that people, sometimes people with very little climbing experience, would pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to companies that would take them up Everest with guides. It's a business and like all business, sometimes loses that feeling for the individual...which unfortunately makes disasters more likely to happen.

I also didn't know how physically taxing and outright dangerous climbing is. That's not correct - I guess I knew, I just never really thought about it. Those who climb mountains have to survive in terrible conditions and with little oxygen, meaning that they are mostly incapable of coherent thinking while up on a mountain...

And I didn't know that there is a whole people - the Sherpas - part of whose livelihood is dependent on climbing. They live in the mountains anyway and act as guides and carriers for the commercial expeditions. Often this is the job the pays most of anything that is available to them.

All in all, fascinating stuff. I'm very glad that I decided to read something so way out of my comfort zone, I am richer for it.

Krakauer insists that the story, told as truthfully as could be, needed to be told. I agree and I applaud his courage and his honesty. Parts of the story are not pretty - including bits about the author's own behavior and choices and the remorse he now feels. I'm sure this wasn't an easy story for him to tell and I thank him for deciding to put it out there.

Challenges: Genre Challenge, Dewey Decimal Challenge

10 comments:

Lezlie said...

It's so fun when a book you normally would have never even looked at turns out to be so good!

Lezlie

Charley said...

The thought of lacking oxygen is terrifying to me. Climbing a mountain with your mental faculties intact seems difficult enough, but to be in that type of physically challenging situation and to feel suffocated - it must be so disorienting.

joanna said...

It sure is Lezlie! And learning something in the process is such a great bonus!

joanna said...

Charley - I know... I don't quite understand why people do it, to be honest, not being one of the thrill-seekers myself...

raidergirl3 said...

Did I mention this to you before? There is another book about the same expedition written by a Russian climber. He disputes some of what Krakauer says in his story. Fascinating to read both.
"The Climb is an account by Russian mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev." Boukreev has since died.

Nymeth said...

"I also didn't know how physically taxing and outright dangerous climbing is. That's not correct - I guess I knew, I just never really thought about it."

I hadn't either until I saw a documentary on climbing a few years ago. It's not something I'd ever do, that's for sure!

joanna said...

raidergirl - you did mention it, but I wasn't sure I was interested enough to read it... Having finished the book now, I'm interested in what parts he disputes. Besides the negative bits Krakauer writes about him, which I guess are the obvious answer.

Nymeth - me neither! I much prefer sitting on my couch and reading about it in the comfort of my home! ;-)

Kailana said...

I have this on my TBR pile. One day I will read it!

Thoughts of Joy said...

I found this to be a fascinating read as well!

joanna said...

Kailana - totally worth it!

Joy - glad you did!