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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster (1997)

Written by Jon Krakauer

When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn't slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning, he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn't made it back to their camp and were desperately struggling for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated.

Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world. A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall's team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people—including himself—to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer's eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement. This book is a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. (Copyright © Villard/Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Born in 1954, Jon Krakauer grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, where his father introduced him to mountaineering as an eight-year-old. After graduating from Hampshire College in 1976, Krakauer divided his time between Colorado, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, supporting himself primarily as a carpenter and commercial salmon fisherman. For the next two decades, however, his life revolved around climbing mountains.

In 1996 Krakauer climbed Mt. Everest, but a storm took the lives of four of the five teammates who reached the summit with him. An analysis of the calamity he wrote for Outside magazine received a National Magazine Award. The unsparingly forthright book he subsequently wrote about Everest, Into Thin Air, became a #1 New York Times bestseller and was translated into more than twenty-five languages. It was also Time magazine's Book of the Year, and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. 

In 1998, as a tribute to his companions lost on Everest, Krakauer established the Everest '96 Memorial Fund at the Boulder Community Foundation with earnings from Into Thin Air. As of 2012, the fund had donated more than $1.7 million to such charities as the American Himalayan Foundation, Educate the Children, Veterans Helping Veterans Now, the Access Fund, and the Boulder Valley Women's Health Center.

Krakauer's writing has been published by Outside, GQ, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, Playboy, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Byliner.com. An article he wrote for Smithsonian about volcanology received the 1997 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. His 1996 book, Into the Wild, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. 

In 1999 Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment." According to the Academy's citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind." 

In 2003, Krakauer published Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, about religious fundamentalism in the American West. While researching Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, published in 2009, Krakauer spent five months embedded with combat forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 2011, he published Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. All of his proceeds from this latter work have been donated to the Stop Girl Trafficking program at the American Himalayan Foundation.

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