After reading both of Krakauer’s non-fiction bestsellers, Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, I’ve decided it’s too hard to review just one without mentioning the other. So I’m doing them both at the same time.
To begin, both books were well-written and impeccably researched. I really like Krakauer’s writing style; otherwise I would never have read two books by him. As a former journalist, he’s factual and direct (which I appreciate in anyone) but he throws in enough personal stories to keep the story moving and relatable.
That said, I liked Into Thin Air much better for two reasons:
First, to be blunt, I didn’t like the subject matter in Into the Wild as much, and that comes down to personal taste; others will be the exact opposite. Into the Wild tells the true story of Chris McCandless, aka “Alexander Supertramp,” the 24-year-old man who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness alone in 1992 and was never seen alive again. Eventually, two moose hunters would find his decomposed body in an abandoned bus, leading to a national debate about life choices, freedom, and the naivety of youth. Krakauer did a good job of laying out how McCandless met his untimely end, going through the details of his life and his relationships. Still, the story didn’t grab me the way Into Thin Air did. Which leads me to my second point….
Right from the beginning of Into the Wild, Krakauer tells the reader that the story’s main character, McCandless, died in Alaska. The book lacked any real sense of suspense, and so just became more like an overly long newspaper article to me rather than a gripping novel. Conversely, Into the Thin Air had suspense in spades. This book, as described by Wikipedia, “details Krakauer’s experience in the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a storm. Krakauer’s expedition was led by guide Rob Hall. Other groups were trying to summit on the same day, including one led by Scott Fischer, whose guiding agency, Mountain Madness, was perceived as a competitor to Hall’s agency, Adventure Consultants.” Throughout the book, I was constantly wondering who lived, who died, who made it to the top, who had to turn back, and who would be permanently disabled following this tragedy (trust me, I had to physically restrain myself from Googling the answer before I finished the book). I think what I liked best about Into Thin Air, though, was Krakauer’s firsthand, honest, self-effacing account of the disaster. He admits he did things wrong. He admits that he may have cost a friend his life. But he also points out that others made mistakes too, and just because those people may not want to remember those mistakes doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Krakauer’s not afraid to name names, to hold people accountable even if they didn’t make it off the mountain, and is honest about his motives for writing the book. And I think because he was actually there, talking to the people he was writing about, going through it with them, that just made all the difference.
So after reading these two books, both of which made it to #1 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers List, I would recommend Into Thin Air over Into the Wild.
P.S. They made a movie of both books, and Everest, based on Into Thin Air, was terrific!