_Into Thin Air_ vs. _Into The Wild_
Into the Wild
Into the Wild was difficult for me to read because it was a story of such a useless death. It is all about a young student from Emory University, where I went to grad school. The place was very pleasant, but the undergraduates there just didn't have a grasp of the real world, or how wonderfully posh they had it compared to state schools.
This particular student was very concerned with poverty and starvation, and eventually gave away his possessions (cool!) and spent several years wandering around the country, living out of his car or in fairly primitive surroundings. After a few years of this, he decided to really rough it, and headed up to Alaska to live in the wilderness.
This is where things get stupid. First of all, he wanted to head out with no backups. He took small-caliber gun with him, and some very basic supplies. He didn't seem to bother to learn how to live off the land beforehand. I got the impression that he really wanted to see what it would be like to have to depend on himself, and to learn as he went along.
He got up there, and headed about 15 miles off of the last dirt road. He finally took up residence in an abandoned school bus (not what I'd call roughens it, but there it is) and eventually died of starvation. He was within a day's walk of help, surrounded by the bounties of nature, and was just too ignorant to survive. Krakour (and my buddy David) admires this, but it just seems like stupidity to me.
Into Thin Air
In marked contrast, I found Into Thin Air, Krakour's story of a disaster on Everest, to be infinitly more sympathetic. Krakour was actually there, and had known most of the main characters for years. The story was much more immediate, and it was at least a bit more clear about why folks were taking risks, and what they'd done to mitigate those risks.
I have no desire to climb Everest myself -- it sounds like awful suffering, with a pretty good chance of losing some extremities, if not your life. But I can understand why other folks would sacrifice everything to summit the tallest mountain in the world.
I'm rather less sympathetic to the rich folks who want to buy their way to the top, but Krakour makes it clear that no matter how much money you have, you still have to suffer to make it to the top. People don't use bottled air until they get to 23,000 feet, and at that point, your brain and body are shutting down from lack of oxygen. You lose your appetite and waste away. You can't think straight.
Still, there are plenty of safeguards, and lots of planning that goes into this. The guides are incredably experienced, althoughthis didn't keep three of them from dying on the face of the mountain. At least this isn't a silly way to throw away your life.
Krakour does a great job of introducing the folks on the mountain, and with maybe one exception, it is easy to admire these folks for being tough enough to get this far. He does paint a somewhat less sympathetic picture of one particular rich moron, who doesn't seem to see the ways in which her casual assumption of privilege endangers the other folks on the mountain.
It's a marvelous book, and an incredable story in any case. You should definitely check it out!