For the life of me I cannot remember why I read this book. I honestly think I searched for a good nonfiction book and this was one of the books in the list I found. Then as usual I did a little research and found that it had something like over two thousand reviews on Amazon and over a 4 star rating. I was pretty much sold at this point and had to see what was so great about this book. The funny thing is that I had no real interest or knowledge about anything mountain climbing, but this book is one of the best books I have ever read fiction or nonfiction in the history of ever, no joke!
Krakuer was born in Massachusetts but later moved to Oregon where he spent most of younger years. He was introduced to mountaineering at a young age and the love of the sport carried into his adult years. He has written a few books his most famous being Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven and this one, all three of which are nonfiction. I find it fascinating that someone could write so many well received books that are not novels, this is very difficult to do in my opinion. I think Into Thin Air is his most popular book and details his experiences climbing Mt. Everest in 1996. This is the only book of his that I have read and I loved every second of it. The sad thing is that Krakuer has received much criticism for this book for many reasons; I will get into those later on in the review. Regardless I think he is a fascinating man and a great writer.
In 1996 Krakuer being an avid climber, wanted to challenge himself to the mother of all climbs, Everest. This book details his historic journey as he remembers it. I say historic because until recently, (in 2014 there was a disaster on Everest that topped the death toll of this expedition) it was the worst disaster on the mountain, a record that stood for almost 20 years. The story explains the decisions good and bad that lead to the disaster and the incredible loss of life the ensued, and more importantly the struggle to survive against all odds.
Let me just say to being with WOW! This is one of, if not the, most amazing book I have ever read. I absolutely loved it from start to finish. As much as I rave about how insane this story is, it is also important to remember that people died during this story. While safe in my room reading page after page I was excited to see what was going to happen while there was a very real and somber mood throughout the story. I can only imagine the feelings and emotion Krakuer must have felt while trying to find the words to retell one of the most horrific events of his life. I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience something like this much less have the composure to write about it afterwards.
I knew next to nothing about climbing before reading this book, what the hell is a crampon? But while reading you understand the lingo and soon I was introduced into a whole new insane and extremely dangerous world. Mountaineering is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. I cannot imagine doing something I love but have to be extremely careful as my life could hang in the balance. As much as I would like to think cycling is dangerous, and it is don’t get me wrong, but nowhere near climbing mountains. This is one of the most extreme sports on the planet and I would argue with almost anyone to say that they are some of the best endurance athletes on the planet. You have to think that most athletes train at or around sea level, Olympic athletes may do some training in Denver to use the altitude to help them gain endurance. Denver is at about 5,000 feet give or take. Most of this story takes place at or around 20,000 feet. The stress this altitude puts on the body is devastating and near fatal. At this altitude your body is literally struggling to keep functioning, not to mention carrying tens of pounds of gear up a mountain.
This book is interesting and very thought provoking for so many reasons. The first is the obvious. There was a major loss of life, and when this happens no matter what you are doing playing checkers, cycling, or climbing Everest, everyone is looking to find the cause and issue out the blame to its appropriate place. I felt that Krakuer tried his best not to judge the decisions made or place the blame on certain individuals. However he does admit where he thinks certain mistakes were made by their guides and this is one of the biggest points of controversy in the books. To me I think he goes back and forth about not necessarily placing blame but questioning some of the decisions that were made. Being an experienced climber I think he was able to say that one decision maybe was not the best, but I felt that he still did not blame anyone for the accident.
The other thing that really made me mad about the book was that at the end Krakuer basically adds his two cents in an afterward about the whole book and puts more of a personal spin on his experience. Throughout the majority of the book he is more or less just telling the events as he remembers they happened. But this ending or essay at the end really hit home for me. Krakuer talked about how he personally had survivor’s remorse and was ostracized by other climbers and ridiculed by the family members of those who lost their lives during the expedition. I was not there and I cannot even being to imagine what I would have done if I were in his position and it really bothered me that the family members would go so far as to write hateful letters to Krakuer telling him what a terrible person he was. In particular there is one point in the book where the expedition is near destruction and a few members are missing. The author says that he was absolutely exhausted and had barely enough energy to keep his eyes open, they are at 20,000 feet or somewhere around there mind you. Now if an experienced climber as he was, and I think all would agree he was, to say that he did not have enough energy to do anything much less help look for the missing people, then I am inclined to believe him. Needless to say that after reading this book I felt very sorry for Krakuer and those that lost their lives on the mountain. Again as I said everyone is looking to place blame when something like this happens, after reading I am not sure there is a single person at fault or a single action. I believe, and I am by no means an investigator, that there were a series of unfortunate events coupled with disastrous weather that lead to one of the deadliest tragedies in the history of Mt. Everest.
I loved this book it is a very good story and surprisingly a very emotional read. As I have mentioned this opened a whole new world for me and brought to life a tragedy that I knew nothing about. If there is a negative to this one, and it is a small one, I think the book does get a little lengthy but I think the book would not be as good without the extra detail that went into the story. So it is a small negative that in the end is really a positive and adds to the story. I highly recommend reading this one as you will not be disappointed, one of my favorite books of all time.