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Cannonball Read III: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

By Beckells | Books | March 7, 2011 |

By Beckells | Books | March 7, 2011 |

Seven out of eight professionals agree: I heart the Krakauer. There is not so much a bias as an admiration for what he’s accomplished through writing and research, despite the controversy he has stirred in the context of both.

The tragedy depicted in Into Thin Air is one that is marginally familiar to most people; 1996 was an unfortunate year to be climbing Mount Everest.

I had never made it through the entire book, though I’ve owned a copy for about 9 years. But when Under the Banner of Heaven came out a while back, I read it cover to cover in about 2 days, enthralled by the subject matter because of Krakauer’s distinctly abrupt and “Just the facts, ma’am” style.

The same applies to this work, but it comes with the shadow of rumor around it. While non-fiction based on religion or any event that has emotions tied to it will never satisfy all, Krakauer has come under specific accusations from others present on the mountain that year—of bad mouthing others and glossing over his own difficulties. And while I don’t think that he delves as deeply into his own personality flaws as much as those around him (the physical is another story), the reader has to remember two things.

First, he was present as a reporter giving a first-hand account of the experience of climbing Everest and everything that comes with that—judging those around you against your own expectations of what is appropriate and right, as well as, what you think they are capable of. Judgemental analysis and opinion in an account of a personal experience are not only unavoidable, they should be expected. Second, this book was written less than 6 months following a harrowing experience during which several people died, and one of whom it is quite obvious Krakauer feels responsible for.

He has no qualms in admitting that not only did he make a mistake regarding a fellow climber, he reported a false event before the truth became known to him. That mistake may have cost a man his life, a father and husband, and cost Krakauer the respect of people he considered peers in both the climbing and publishing worlds.

The existence of these points of discussion are a credit to Krakauer and his book; the man can tell a story, and wind his facts through it without them seeming shoved in by a copywriter in a closet somewhere. It is a talent a lot of non-fiction can lack. The disputes made against his account and what was reported both in his book and the original magazine article, only serve to emphasize discussion and examination, something that a good writer always wants for his story. Attention to the story is attention to the event; whether or not you think he was fair in his descriptions will only provide you with a closer view of the ordeal, and I like to think that while he no longer allows anyone to question him on the disaster, Krakauer would appreciate additional perspectives.

Like I said, 7 out of 8. And I’m pretty sure the 8th was just jealous.

For more of Beckells’ reviews, check out her blog, getontothenext.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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