Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer

Year published: 1997
Category: nonfiction thriller


In 1996, Outside Magazine sent journalist and climber Jon Krakauer on a guided expedition to summit Mount Everest. The goal: to report on the increasing commercialization of the mountain, with guides like Rob Hall and Scott Fischer leading guests with dreams of mountain glory to the top of the world’s highest peak. Some of these guests spent as much as $75,000 to pursue their dream, but perhaps not all were experienced enough to handle the unmatched rigors of climbing above 25,000 feet. On summit day, May 10, 1996, the climbers’ progress was slowed by their inexperience and the size of the crowd attempting the fixed ropes. When the weather changed, disaster ensued. Lost, blinded, freezing, out of oxygen, and exhausted, climbers trapped on the peak spent the night exposed to a raging storm. Five climbers never came down, and others survived only due to the heroism of others.


Into Thin Air is a first-person account of what happened before, during, and after the terrible tragedy on the roof of the world. Officially on assignment for magazine, Jon Krakauer stumbled on the story of his life but it came at devastating cost. The events of that day haunt him and compelled him to write this thorough, book-length account soon after his earlier, shorter report went to press in the magazine.

Into Thin Air is a book you’ll feel compelled to read in one sitting. From the first page, you know the outcome is tragic. Krakauer’s gift is telling the story with the right combination of journalistic precision and genuine feeling. The sense of drama is palpable throughout. The details of how an assault on Everest is made are utterly fascinating. Having never been over twelve thousand feet myself, I had no appreciation for the overpowering effects of the oxygen-depleted air of the Himalayas. Tremendous weight loss, unbearable fatigue, frostbite, mental confusion—all these are part of the Everest experience, and contributed to the tragedy.

Krakauer’s other strength, demonstrated in his famous Into the Wild, is dissecting complex human motivations and making actions that seem at first glance to be unjustifiable seem reasonable at the time.

Part adventure, part tragedy, part confessional, Into Thin Air is a must-read book with real-life heroes and villains, portrayed with honesty and subtlety.

Fans of science thrillers will find the setting and technical details about the medical effects of altitude fascinating.

Comments are closed.