Into the Wild + Into Thin Air = 12 down, 88 to go

29 Dec

A couple of years ago I read Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which opens with the murder of a wife and infant daughter committed by the husband’s two brothers. The book tracks the back story of the murder and its ties to Mormon fundamentalism, of which the brothers were practitioners and claimed they received direct orders from God to commit the heinous murders. The book also told the detailed history of Mormonism and the break off of the fundamental sects. The book was well written and researched, compelling and engaging. After I put it down, I didn’t give a second thought to the author.

A couple of months ago while enjoying a bottle of wine with friends, Jon Krakauer’s name came up while volleying book recommendations to one another across the table. His book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, was strongly suggested, as were a number of his other books. Once I realized it was the same author, I knew that I would read at least one book by him during my yearlong book challenge.

As I read two Jon Krakauer books back to back (because yes, they were that good!), I’ve joined them into this shared entry.

Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
207 pages

After graduating from college, Christopher McCandless made a conscience decision to drop out of society, and he had one ultimate goal in mind — living off the land in the wilds of Alaska, where his adventure eventually turned deadly.

The book details his journey across the United States, the people’s whose lives he touched along the way and then his trip north to Alaska where he ultimately starved to death in an abandoned bus in the backcountry.

Krakauer does a brilliant job of not just telling McCandless’ story, but also juxtaposing him against others who over the decades have checked out of mainstream society and taken extreme risks in a man v. nature approach.

To help the reader better understand McCandless’ psyche, he tells his own story of an extreme mountaineering trip he took in his early 20s to scale Devil’s Thumb:

The closest thing I’d had to human contact since the airdrop, the distant lights triggered a flood of emotion that caught me off guard. I imagined people watching baseball on television, eating fried chicken in brightly lit kitchens, drinking beer, making love. When I lay down to sleep, I was overcome by a wrenching loneliness. I’d never felt so alone, ever.

Other Nonfiction
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
Jon Krakauer
332 pages

Jon Krakauer was on assignment from Outside magazine in May 1996. He had been tasked with ascending Mt. Everest and writing about his experiences, as well as the commercialization over the years of Everest.

That climbing season though took a horrible turn for the worst when a sudden storm enveloped the world’s tallest peak, leaving five hikers dead. This book was a very personal story for Krakauer:

Until I visited the Himalaya, however, I’d never actually seen death at closer range. Hell, before I went to Everest, I’d never even been to a funeral. Mortality had remained a conveniently hypothetical concept, an idea to ponder in the abstract. Sooner or later the divestiture of such a privileged innocence was inevitable, but when it finally happened, the shock was magnified b the sheer superfluity of the carnage; all told, Everest killed twelve men and women in the spring of of 1996, the worst single-season death toll since climbers first set foot on the peak seventy-five years ago.

Of the six climbers on [Rob] Hall’s expedition who reached the summit, only Mike Groom and I made it back down; four teammates with whom I’d laughed and vomited and held long, intimate conversations lost their lives. My actions — or failure to act — played a direct role in the death of Andy Harris. And while Yasuko Namba lay dying on the South Col, I was a mere 350 yards away, huddled inside a tent, oblivious to her struggle, concerned only for my own safety. The stain this has left on my psyche is not the sort of thing that washes off after a few months of grief and guilt-ridden self-reproach.

Jon Krakauer is a powerful storyteller. These are two of most insightful books that I’ve read in a long time.


2 Responses to “Into the Wild + Into Thin Air = 12 down, 88 to go”

  1. Robin S. January 11, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    I did read "Into Thin Air" but none of Krakauer's others. "Under the Banner of Heaven" pops in and out of my radar, but I always get distracted by something else.

  2. Kate January 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    Highly recommend Under the Banner of Heaven on your radar. An excellent read…though it sounds like you're in the middle of another reading adventure.

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