I am not a fan of action adventure travel tales or extremes of physical exertion: everything I know about mountain climbing I learned from Earle Birney's long narrative poem "David," about two boys' summer around Banff. But once I had started Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Random House), an account of the ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition, I couldn't put it down until I had read all 378 pages.
To quote Rex Murphy of the CBC, this is "stretch journalism"—an article expanded to book length, reportage with interviews, quotations, analysis, self-analysis and confession. Yet the writing and the visual presentation of the material—some of it quite technical—are so well done that even the lay reader whips through the 29,028-foot trek without skimming. Krakauer's description of the roles played in the disaster by hubris, weather, inexperience, competition, personal history, hypoxia, the presence of reporters and the ability to buy the Summit, are enlarged by his moving personal account of survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress.
This book didn't make me want to climb a mountain, but it helped me understand those who do, and it inspired me to read again, for sheer joy, Birney's poem about "That day, the last of my youth, on the last of our mountains."