Should you be traveling and wish to encourage conversation with your fellow travelers, carry and read from Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. I was reading it as I flew from West Texas back to Chicago a few weeks ago. Several people just nodded toward the book and said "Great book." The longest encounter I had was with a man who appeared to be one of the Southwest Airlines pilots. Seeing me reading near a gate in Midland International Airport, he asked me how I was liking the book and recommended that I also read Under the Banner of Heaven. As he walked away, I observed his being blond, tan, and athletic, just the kind of guy who could be a climber.
By this time, fifteen years after publication, I imagine a lot of people have already read Into Thin Air. I know librarians have been recommending it for years. I know that I have handed it to scores of readers. Yet I had not read it. The whole idea of enduring hardship and altitude sickness to put one's life at risk just to test one's determination seemed rather self-indulgent and irresponsible. It still does. But the book is exciting.
Krakauer is a good storyteller.
Though you know the outcome at the beginning, he is able to introduce characters and reveal critical moments at a pace that never lets the reader lose interest. With his vivid descriptions, I feel I know what it is like at the top of Everest, and I am certain that I am not going there. I think I'll stay under 8000 feet, thank you, except for a few airplane flights.
I was reading Into Thin Air to see if it fit in an article that I am writing about memoirs to keep for decades in library collections. I decided it is not enough about Krakauer to be a memoir, but it is definitely a book to keep.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. Villard, 1997. 297p. ISBN 0679457526.