Novel explores horror of Mt. Everest
At first glance, "Into Thin Air" may look like another sensationalist tale cashing in on the public's lust for titillating yet true stories. But this remarkable book manages to reach beyond the cheap thrill, and confronts the issue of man's drive to push himself to the limit, and the harsh reality of an unforgiving natural world.
As the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest has long been a topic of interest and the basis for many dreams. To meet this demand, a controversial market has recently sprung up, promising the elusive summit to even the non-climber through guided expeditions.
It was just such an expedition that brought Jon Krakauer, a journalist on assignment, to Everest last year. Before his trip was over, he was to play a part in the worst tragedy yet seen on Mount Everest.
On May 10, 1996, thirty climbers struggled towards their dream of standing on the highest point on earth. Many never reached the peak. And when a sudden storm surprised the highly trained guides on top of the mountain, eight people lost their lives.
The author recounts the events leading up to and during the climb in vivid detail, expertly weaving together the history of the mountain, the background of his fellow climbers, and his own feelings and thoughts. In doing so, he succeeds in dancing upon the fine line separating factual journalism and gripping human interest.
Building up to summit day, the reader is slowly drawn into the realm where desire and drive dominate. We experience a shift in perspective that allows us to attempt to understand the events in the context in which they occurred.
As the author comments, "lucid thought is all but impossible at 29,000 feet." This becomes painfully clear as the events of summit day unfold, and each small step has drastic impact. Armchair rationalizations grasping for clear cut explanations get you nowhere. At sea level, the tragedy is senseless and devastating; at the extreme, nothing can be reduced to simple right and wrong.
This is an extraordinary book, raising questions of politics and economy, sport and tourism, and, ultimately, of the human experience. It will set your heart racing and leave your mind gasping for air.